I Remember Glad Tidings of Joy

December 25, 2011

Former board member, Rev. Paul Settle tells the story of his first Christmas, 2010, without his wife, Georgia. 

Rev. Settle served on Westminster's board from 1975 to 2005.

This evening I put up a few decorations for Christmas. By myself, for myself. It was the first time that I've done it all alone.

It gave me a good feeling to remove old friends from their tissue or cotton or foam bubble resting places. They hadn't changed much, nothing was broken in the last move, and I enjoyed selecting just the right places for their display in the only room I'll be decorating this year.

There are not many things left. We've down-sized every year for the past ten years. The boxes and boxes of angel figurines and ornaments and wreaths and lights and crystal bells are almost no more. The treasured things have dwindled down, like autumn leaves, to a precious few. And they are precious, because they each represent wonderful hours with Georgia and the kids, unpacking, admiring, squinting and pursing lips and nodding heads as the just-right-place is searched out to display each item.

There's a creche — Georgia's pride and joy — we've had it for years, along with the traditional figurines that inhabit it. Mary and Joseph kneel to worship their tiny Son, a shepherd boy looks on, grasping the legs of a little lamb that is slung around his shoulders, and three Magi from the East arrange themselves near the manger, offering their gifts to the newborn King (in the Scriptures it is clear that the star-watchers did not arrive until Jesus was about two years old, but we don't pretend that our Christmas decorations accurately represent the event). There are camels, elaborately tricked out in what must have been Eastern finery for pachyderms, and a cow or two, even a donkey (probably the one Mary rode all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem.)  Georgia always unpacked and set up the creche. The kids and I were not considered steady enough to handle the lovely figurines. I won't use the creche this year — no room in the condo.

My job was to erect the tree — sometimes a live fir — sporting a huge gunny-sacked ball of earth around the roots. I placed the ball in a tub of water, and attached ropes and two-by-fours and wires and duct tape to the trunk and various limbs and then to the floor and walls, in a usually vain effort to keep it upright until January 1st.

Each year we decorated the tree together, Georgia, Jo and David and myself. I say "together" but the togetherness was sometimes punctuated by squabbles, even fights, over who would get to do what. I usually strung the lights. Jo and David attached the ornaments - bright green and red or white or blue globes, glass angels swinging from limbs, small tinkling bells that mother had painted for us. The kids were not allowed to place the bells until they were almost grown. But that was okay, they could fight over just about everything else. Mother gave each of us children and our spouses one lovingly and beautifully hand-painted bell each Christmas. By the time she was no longer able to do them we had gratefully received at least thirty or more. They are greatly treasured. At last, the tinsel and icicles, and the angel at the very top. And, Voila!  It was glorious.

There's not much left now, but then I don't have much space. And that's okay. I can still set up a few things. There's Mom Gunter's lovely ceramic tree, festooned with tiny glass translucent bulbs and equipped with a beautifully melodic music box rendition of Silent Night. The tree is about 100 years old, I think. Mom Gunter had it before I was born — I remember it from my childhood — and I'm...well, I'm pretty old. Turn the light on inside it and the tree's little lights bravely spread cheer from the fireplace mantel.

And the church: a ceramic church which looks a lot like the old Southwestern Roman Catholic mission churches. Snow hangs along the eaves and clusters high on the roof at the foot of a cross. A tiny light inside illuminates open windows above and below. It casts a soft glow throughout the room. We purchased the church at an estate sale a long time ago.

Then there is the “rescue tree.” Georgia and I saw it huddling in a dark corner of a thrift store. About three feet tall, its branches twisted, its miniature ornaments and lights dusty and broken. As we approached, it appeared to stand a little straighter, and it kind of stretched its thin branches our way.  I was touched. Georgia was smitten. We paid $3.00 for it. I don't think I've ever seen a tree so happy as this one was when I propped it securely in the back floor of the Jeep for the ride home. That was three years ago. Now here it is -- in my apartment -- its lights are brightly beaming, its miniature ornaments swing gaily from their branches, and Cali the cat is snuffling at its nether regions.

That's about it. At K-mart today I bought a wreath and ribbon to hang on the front door of the condo. I'll hang it tomorrow, and that will just about finish the decorating for 2010.

It's nice, but it's not the same, decorating by myself, for myself.  Everything I lift from it's packing sends memories rushing through my mind -- Georgia placing the Mary and Joseph just right so their faces are beholding the Child; Jo stretching and leaning high to hang ceramic angels on the tree that she's threatening to knock down; David, when he was three years old, hanging icicles in one place on the same limb until it threatened to break. Each year, when everything was in place, we watched reverently as Georgia carefully spread a white cloth around the base of the tree, the words she had embroidered in red along it's fringed hem reminding us why we decorated, why we loved each other, for whom we were created: Glad tidings of great joy, Christ the Savior is born. 

I greatly miss Georgia. But I would not want her back. Not now. I contemplate the soft light gleaming from the little mission church, and I think of her, now in heaven, bathed in infinitely greater, pure, Shekinah glory that emanates from a majestic figure seated on a high Throne. She beholds the Throne, and on the Throne, a Lamb as it had been slain; and she sees the Lamb, face to face, and it is our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord, once born, once bled, forever living. And she has great joy. And so do I.

Paul G. Settle
December, 2010  

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU, DEAR FAMILY AND FRIENDS!  I wrote this remembrance last Christmas, but share it now in gratitude for your prayers, cards, letters, e-mails, telephone calls and “care” packages. Your loving thoughtfulness and many kindnesses have made this past year a blessed experience in our Lord.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord (Luke 2:11).

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the  heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).