A Christmas Story

Nathanael Winkler

What is Christmas about? To look at the world, one might think that Christmas’s central figure is Santa Claus, with his bushy white beard and red velvet suit, who brings presents on Christmas Eve in his sleigh drawn by flying reindeer.

Many wish for a “white Christmas.” For them, Christmas is incomplete without snow. Others look forward to the Christmas markets, the pleasant atmosphere, the fragrances and lights, the food, or baking cookies.

In houses and in public places, Christmas trees are set up and decorated. The bigger, more colorful, and brighter the better…it seems. During the Christmas season, families come together. They strive to maintain harmony, and give each other gifts and affection. Christmas connects generations.

All of this is good. But the essential thing is being lost in the process; namely, the reason we celebrate Christmas: Jesus Christ!

Somebody once told a story that illustrates this:

“Christmas?! No. We’re not doing that this year,” the woman says bitterly.

“But why not?”

“This year I got word that my husband died in a Russian prison camp. Now I’m sharing this single room with my two children. There’s no money to buy anything with. There’s never enough to get by…” The woman angrily wipes her tears away. “…No, our Christmas is canceled this year.”

“I need to tell you a short story. Do you have five minutes?”

The woman nods, again wiping away involuntary tears.

“You know that I spent the whole war here in the Ruhr (Germany) area. In the Christmas of 1944, our apartment looked awful. We’d crudely rigged the windows shut with cardboard and plastic. The draft became unbearable. But I still wanted to celebrate Christmas with my children.

“Christmas trees weren’t available, so one morning I rode my bicycle into the woods to get myself a tree. Unfortunately, it wasn’t allowed. A forest ranger appeared, who informed me of my violation and fine.

“I drove home feeling sad. But I was fortunate. In the afternoon, a Polish man who had been displaced by the war came by and offered me a tree. I didn’t ask where he’d gotten it. And then we had a little gift exchange in our freezing shack. It was pitiful enough, because you couldn’t buy anything anymore. But we’d found a few small things. And we lit two or three candles, too. So, it looked quite festive. But just as we were starting to celebrate, the sirens began to blare. Everything happened so fast. The air raid sirens were already howling, warning of urgent danger. My children ran into the bunker. I just had time to blow out the candles, and then I also ran out into the night.

“The enemy planes were already droning overhead. I ran for my life. But then I stopped, because I realized that the attack was targeting a neighboring city. Then ‘Christmas trees’ came from the sky—that’s what we called the flares the planes used to mark their targets. I was all alone on the deserted street. The earth was roaring and shaking from the bomb blasts. The dreadful, deadly ‘Christmas trees’ filled the sky. In that moment, all the misery of this poor world fell on me. I felt so abandoned and lost. I could have screamed from all the suffering. And there, that’s where it happened: I suddenly heard as if an angel of God was calling out over the field of Bethlehem: ‘The Savior was born to you today!’

“‘That’s true,’ I was forced to think, ‘Yes, that’s still true today!’

I wasn’t ashamed that tears of joy were running down my face. ‘Me! The Savior was born to me! Christ, the Savior, is here!’ my heart cried out incessantly. I became so joyful and happy that I could hardly express it.

“When the attack was over, my family came out of the bunker. And then we assembled right there and sang, ‘To a world so lost in sin, Christ the Savior enters in, Praise Him, all ye Christians!’ Those rickety walls shook from our singing.

“You see, at Christmas, you only need the Savior. Anything else is dressing. As my friend always says, ‘The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!’ So, I say to you, I wish you a blessed Christmas!”

Midnight Call - 12/2019

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