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Gary Wisenbaker
Christmas Eve at Encampment

Gary Wisenbaker - Christmas Eve at Encampment

A crackling, dancing fire in the family room blends its scent of burning oak with the aromas wafting from a clattering--and chattering--kitchen.

The huge, oval shaped cedar, stretching toward the 21' ceiling of the living room, trimmed with ornaments both old (some very) and new (not many) is an anchored ship floating on a swelling sea of cheerfully wrapped felicities, its lights strung so that when lit only the constellations compare.

Egg nog, wine and libations flow from a tucked away wellspring of spirits ably dispensed by husbands doubling as sons in law.

This soiree isn't complete without its festive board of wild and domestic meats and fowl, sauces, casseroles, home grown vegetables and breads.  That this is a Southern fare including traditional desserts of pecan pie and Lottie Lane cake requires no further comment.  And all is served with only the finest china, crystal, silver and linen napkins.

Such is Christmas Eve at my mother in law Nana's house.  The 15 members of our immediate family will gather in her 170 or so year old home--"The Big House"--and enjoy a familial camaraderie that can only come but once a year.

And this is not unique.  This is a scene portrayed countless ways around the world on this Night of Nights.

What is unique is my absence this year.

My ambience includes plastic and steel tables and chairs on polished concrete floors with no fire places, no spirits, no gifts.  Our repast of processed and semi-processed food will be served on an assembly line and consumed with plastic forks and spoons.

Such is Christmas Eve at a federal work camp.

Yet I am content.  This is of my own making  This soon to end exile is my ark, my wandering in the wilderness.  As it was for Noah and the Israelites, this is a down payment on redemption.

I am content for a greater, though accidental, reason.  Here we enjoy an isolation from the greed, commercialism and solipsism that the secular world has infused into our celebration of Christmas.  We are spared the "Only 11 More Shopping Days 'Til Christmas!" hysteria and the "Christmas Spectacular!" sales events invented to reel in the tardy and wring yet more equity out of their credit cards.

Thank goodness.

Without all these distractions I have rediscovered that there is more to Christmas that its Eve and Day.  And that is the season of Advent.  The name is derived from the Latin word "adventus" meaning "coming".  The Roman Church initiated this originally Gallican custom around the 6th century.  So Advent has been around for a while, say 1,400 years.  It is largely lost in today's secular world.  And it is a sad loss.

The widely more familiar Lenten season prepares us for the withdrawal of the adult Christ Child from the earth in human form by his passion, death and resurrection.  Advent, on the other hand, not only seeks to prepare us for his human manifestation in the humility of the manger but also in his splendid and glorious Second Coming.  This dichotomy is as beautiful as it is profound.

Consider, however, that Advent goes even further.  It prepares us for sustenance in that interim between the humility and the splendor.  Advent considers Christ's present coming, the here and now, revealed by his very presence in the midst of the Church Universal.

Advent, then, is an event that brings about the coming of Christ yesterday, today and tomorrow for the sake of our souls and our salvation. Advent brings the miracle of Christ's earthly manifestation into our hearts.  It reveals the human child that is born of the flesh as the Son that is given making our heavenly inheritance available to us.  It is as prophesied by the Psalmist:  "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and truth have kissed each other."

How beautiful and powerful and yet how lost!

Charles Dickens captured this theme, perhaps unwittingly, in his "A Christmas Carol" with Christmas past, present and future.  In concluding that Christmas is a condition of the heart, that what matters is within and not without, he reminds us of that universal truth.

Hold the promise made, the promise revealed and the promise to come close in your heart and you will have a very merry Christmastide for yourself and your loved ones, whether you are with them or not, regardless of your ambience.

Merry Christmas to all.

Gary Wisenbaker

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