Noel~Veni & A Star Alone
“This is the Door of Humility, originally built in the seventh century.” The guide droned on, ignoring the muttered curses of the tall Americans who bumped their heads and the protests of the elderly who were already bent double with age. Among the later was a quiet woman with paper-white hair and gleaming onyx eyes.
She wandered away from the crowd into the Grotto of the Nativity. Underneath the elaborate tiles and plaques, it was still just a cave.
“He was born in a stable, Mara. Just think of it! A stable, like this!”
Her younger self wrinkled her nose. “It smells. I wouldn’t like it.”
“Ah, but Jesus didn’t come because the world was splendid. He came because he loved us.”
A tear fell from Mara’s eye. She rubbed her face with her arm. The sleeve of her knitted sweater slid up, revealing an ugly string of symbols J19570.
“Oh come, oh come, Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel. That mourns in lowly exile here…” A hundred other voices echoed in her mind, fellow believers unconquered by the horror of the death camps.
She had survived. Her family had not.
“Oh come thou Rod of Jesse, free thine own from Satan’s tyranny. From depths of hell thy people save and give us victory o’er the grave…”
Tyranny. Mara had seen much of it during her seventy-five years on earth. From the shattering of Kristalnacht to the bombing of a street market in Jerusalem yesterday, all the horrors had only cemented in her mind the need of a Savior. Even those who claimed Jesus as Lord refused to let him be Immanuel in their lives.
Mara inhaled the name. “Immanuel, you have been with me all these years.” Her chest felt squeezed by a giant hand.
“Oh come, O Key of David, come and open wide our heavenly home.”
Another group entered the grotto. The guide stared intently at Mara. “Are you alright?”
Mara shook her head. “Don’t worry about me,” she whispered.
As the guide turned away, Mara sank to the floor.
“Move back, move back,”
“Give her some room.”
“What’s 911 in Israeli?”
“Ma’am, can you hear us?”
“It looks like a heart attack.”
If Mara had tried to speak, she would have burst out laughing. They thought she was dying. But her prayers had been answered. She was ready for the greatest adventure.
The final words of her song hung in the air.
Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery…
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs. This ancient song is even more plantitive in the original 8th century Latin, from which I took the title and closing phrase.
“Veni” means “come” and “gaude” means “rejoice.”
A Star Alone
Nicole yanked off her bulging backpack and dropped it onto the seat next to her. The faint rumble of the train hummed underneath the beats of Carrie Underwood coming from her iPod. She leaned her cheek against the frost-painted glass. The warmth of her face slowly melted a patch of ice to reveal a faint star against the night void.
A long ride lay ahead. Nicole sighed as she unzipped the main compartment of her backpack and dug through half-unwrapped presents. The Nintendo DS, the Wii, the Kodak 10.2 mexapixal camera, and countless CDs and DVDS were only from her mother’s half of Nicole’s Christmas, with more to come from Nicole’s father. Any teen’s dream come true, to be sure.
But Nicole was alone in the railway carriage on Christmas evening. Freezing rain pelted the train windows. “Nicole Ruby Matthews,” she muttered to herself. “Matthews? Humph!” Though her mother had won the custody battle, Nicole hated both her parents equally. She glared at the backpack, hearing a subtle message underneath the iPod’s tunes. I love you more than he does.
Nicole pulled out the earbuds and stared at the still-playing iPod in her hand. Suddenly, she flung it to the floor. The pink device landed in a half-melted pile of snow. She kicked it. “Take that!”
The door at the near end of the compartment opened to reveal a little boy and an elderly woman, wrapped up tightly against the cold. The boy stared at the iPod. “Look, Grandma! An eye-poodle!”
The woman bent over and picked up the iPod. “I assume this is yours,” she wiped it on her jacket before handing it to Nicole.
“Do you have the Transformers soundtrack?” The boy begged.
“Nick, I highly doubt it.”
“Your name is Nick?” Nicole blinked twice. “Mine’s Nicole.”
“Nick is a boy’s name.” Nick crossed his arms. “You’re a girl.”
“Nicholas Matthew James, be polite!”
“No, it’s okay,” Nicole reached into her backpack. “Here, you can play with my Nintendo, even if some of the games are too girly for you.”
Nick snatched it from her hands.
“Nick—“ his grandma warned.
“It’s okay,” Nicole sighed. “I don’t really like it anyway.”
“What are you doing alone on Christmas?”
“On my way to my dad’s. I’ll probably need another duffel for all his gifts,” she snorted. “And you?”
The woman ruffled her grandson’s knitted hat and lowered her voice. “Nick has cancer. We’re going in for another round of chemo.”
“Cancer doesn’t care about Christmas.”
Nicole stared out the window.
“It’s hard, isn’t it?” Nick’s grandma said, almost to herself. “We’re supposed to have joy at Christmas, but that’s when life’s challenges hit the hardest too.”
“I hate the holidays.” Nicole muttered to the glass. “All the sappy Hallmark© movies and the ads of happy families…”
“Well, the whole Incarnation was no pile of poinsettias either.”
“Yeah, being born in a barn sounds like a real classic.” Nicole snapped.
“I don’t just mean his birth,” Nick’s grandmother turned to the girl. “In John chapter one, it says, ‘He was in the world, but though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to those who were his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’”
“Attention, we are now approaching our Market Street Station, all off for Market Street.”
“Come on, Nick, give the Nintendo back,” his grandma told him. “We need to get off.”
“Awwh…” Nick moaned.
Nicole watched as the two walked down the aisle.
“Goodbye, Nicole,” the woman said. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” Nicole repeated. The words echoed in her mind. His own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
Enya’s song “Trains and Winter Rains” inspired this story. It left a picture in my head of a teenage girl leaning against the window, and a backpack of presents by her feet. I wondered who she was and what she would learn on a lonely Christmas night.