Another blog to which I subscribe introduced me to this letter written by a German soldier standing guard in the Russian winter in late December 1942:
“The most beautiful Christmas I had ever seen, made entirely of disinterested emotion and stripped of all tawdry trimmings. I was all alone beneath an enormous starred sky, and I can remember a tear running down my frozen cheek, a tear neither of pain nor of joy but of emotion created by intense experience.”’
Can you imagine how awful his Christmas was? How far this young man, barely out of his teens, was from his home and family? How cold he must have been to have tears freeze to his cheeks? How he feared that he would not live to see another Christmas?
Yet, that enormous starred sky created the most beautiful Christmas he ever saw.
It reminded me of Christmas on the farm in Southwestern New York where I grew up. It was a lonely place far from the city lights that I take so much for granted these days. The snow-covered fields and the woods that surrounded us were silent. The barn where we milked the cows steamed in the cold as the animals ate from their feed troughs, AKA “mangers”.
It was easy to imagine an awful Christmas when a young woman and her husband were denied shelter by their fellow humans and found refuge with the animals.
But above all this was the sky filled with stars, so it was also easy to imagine the stars that once began to swirl, like a Van Gogh painting, turning into angels who sang about peace on earth and goodwill for everyone.
Into this night, a baby is born. In some ways the most awful and most awe-full thing that can happen.
I don’t really wish you an awful Christmas, not like the one that soldier had; not like the one Mary and Joseph had. It’s just that awful Christmases are unavoidable.
Sometimes, it is in our awful Christmases that we see the real beauty of Christmas stripped of tawdry trimmings. Just as we are able to see the wondrous stars when it is really dark, so we are able to experience the awe-fullness of Christmas the most when Christmas is awful.