The old priest was feeling his age as he turned to face the congregation and read the Gospel for the Christmas service. He was weary, should have retired years ago, but had little incentive to do so. His life had been the church, and he didn’t want to be left alone in his senescence. His wife had passed away a few years ago. He himself had survived cancer and chemo. Now every day he felt the effects of the disease and the treatment and his many years – fatigue, his constant companion.
As he pronounced the Peace before reading the Gospel he felt exhausted; he had no sermon prepared. He doubted that it mattered. They wouldn’t want a long sermon anyway as they wanted to get back to the warmth of their homes on this cold winter day to celebrate Christmas with their families. Each person present had his or her own expectation about what they should get out of the Christmas service, each their own interpretation of the feast, each their own need this Christmas. Christmas was so personalized with its message determined by each person, dictated by their own sentiment, or piety, or need. Besides, they all had heard the Nativity narrative so many times, he knew better than to imagine they were paying attention to him.
He had tried every year to find a Christmas message that pleased them. He had heard every year what some wanted or expected from him on this holiday and what they didn’t like about his homily. He wished just once he could please them all. Maybe too big a miracle to hope for. Besides at this point in his life he had said everything he had to say on the Feast, nothing new came to mind.
His eyes seemed blurry as he opened the newly donated Gospel book for the first time – a gift to the parish for the Nativity that year. The gold cover was so pure, the colored lights from the Christmas tree in the nave danced on it.
It crossed his mind that each person present would hear what they wanted from the Gospel lesson.
“The reading is from the Gospel according to . . .”
The pages were exquisitely colored, magnificently adorned with illustrations and illuminated with stunning calligraphy.
He couldn’t seem to find the page. He blinked to try to clear away the haze on his dry eyes. As he looked, behold, what was written in front of him said “the Gospel according to Peanuts”. He turned the page only to see “the Gospel according to Jean Shepherd”, and a few pages later according to Valentine Davies, and then according to Dr Seuss. As he quickly flipped the pages he saw a Christmas story about Frosty, another about Rudolph, the Grinch, Scrooge, Snoopy and Santa. He could not believe his eyes!
The words of the text staring at him read: “’Twas the Night Before Christmas…”
The congregants were looking expectantly at the priest. It was after the all the advent of their favorite holiday.
He was rapidly flipping pages until he had came to the back cover of the Gospel. He stopped.
There, stuck between the back matter and the cover was a flattened ball of paper – as if someone had written a bad idea, crumpled it up and stuck it in the back of the book, where it became crushed.
Some of the congregants were embarrassed for the old priest, others were feeling impatient, wondering what the problem was. Some thought the old man had lost his place again in the book, a few sniggered thinking he finally had lost his mind.
He clumsily unfolded the wadded paper. It was badly tattered, and the script was faded almost to the point of being illegible. When he flattened the time-worn paper, his eyes cleared and he recognized the hand and the words. The mystery was revealed.
Everyone was startled when for the first time, they heard the angel so clearly say:
“Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “