James and Carolyn Craig told us this wonderful Christmas Eve story last Saturday night at the Barnwell’s Friends and Family get-together. It was Christmas Eve, even though there were very few cars on the road that night, when one did come down the road, you could hear the crackling of the snow under the tires long before it came into view. The light from the stars was so bright, glistening against the deep snow that you didn’t need any other light to find your way.
Bundled up against the cold, 15-year-old Anna, 11-year-old Ian, and 9-year-old Holly Christensen walked single file behind their father and mother, who were making a path for their children through the knee-high snow. They trudged along in the snow for about a mile before coming to the last house on the road, before leaving the city limits and heading out into the country the house was one the children’s father admired every time, he drove past it.
The old house, silhouetted against the dark from the starlight, seemed to have a warm, inviting personality all its own, even on such a cold night. Mr. Christensen pushed hard against the gate to gain enough room from all the snow for his family to slip through the opening and past the barely visible picket fence surrounding the house which was knee-deep with snow.
The journey up the sidewalk and then climbing up the porch steps, which were piled high with snow, was a fun time for the children who giggled each time one of them slid back down. The entire family finally made it to the top, and safely onto the big porch that covered the entire front of the house. In unison the children asked their father “Are you sure someone lives here?”
Even though their father didn’t drive past the old house often during the warmer days of the year, when he did come this way, he noticed an elderly woman out in the yard or on the porch. It was obvious that the old house had been a real showplace at one time, but the lack of attention had diminished its attractiveness. Even so, the children’s father had developed a real affection for the old place and often wondered about the woman who lived there. He never saw anyone else there and felt certain she had to be a widow, and probably very lonely.
When they got to the front door, they saw a light in the living room though it was ever so faint. They knocked on the door and waited for what seemed like an eternity before hearing a sweet little voice ask, “Who is it?” Without answering the Christenson family began to sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing! Glory to the Newborn King!” Before they had finished, the house door opened, and Mrs. Slater, owner of the house, stood inside the storm door. The star-lit night was all that was needed to see the tears coming down her cheeks.
When they had finished singing, Mrs. Slater was so moved with emotion she could hardly speak as she opened the storm door and said: “Won’t you, won’t you please come in: this is the most wonderful Christmas Eve I had had in 23 years.” As the family entered the house, Mrs. Slater continued to say, “Thank you, thank you, for this wonderful surprise. I never thought I would ever again hear Christmas carolers; it has been so many years.”
Mrs. Slater wanted to know where they were from and whatever possessed them to be out caroling on such a cold winter’s night. Mr. Christensen said they just felt the Lord led them there and when they saw that bright light shining directly over her house, they knew they had to make the long walk from their place to hers and share the good news of which the Angels sang!
He introduced himself saying I am Christopher, this is my wife Katheryn, and these are our children, Anna, Ian, and Holly. The children asked her why she didn’t have a Christmas tree. Mrs. Slater said how it had been many years since her dear husband passed away, and not having any family of her own, she had not put up a Christmas tree or any Christmas decorations in all those years.
When Mr. Christensen said he would go out and cut down one of the evergreen trees he noticed in her big yard if she would like him to, you could tell in an instant, by the twinkle in her eyes, just the thought of it thrilled her.
After Mr. Christensen brought the tree in, the children were anxious to decorate it for Mrs. Slater. Mrs. Slater was quick to show them where she kept her decorations. They were almost finished when she took a beautiful ornament out from her China cabinet and carefully unwrapped it.
She took the ornament, and with a tear on her cheek, placed this ornament on the tree herself; as she did, the children gasped! “Dad, Mom,” they said. “That’s exactly like
the one we have.” “Oh, that’s impossible”, Mrs. Slater said. “You see my grandfather made one for me, and one for my brother just like it, when we were little children in Norway.”
“When the Nazis started to come to power, my parents knew that as Christians we would have to flee the country. The night we tried to escape I was with my mother; my father and brother tried to distract the soldiers’ attention by running away from our hiding place. We became separated and heard shots and felt certain my father and brother were killed. I eventually made it to the United States with my mother, but we were never able to find out what happened to my father and brother.
We each carried a few personal belongings with us when we fled our homeland. Both my brother and I packed the special Christmas ornament our grandfather had made us when we were younger.”
Mr. Christensen looked at Mrs. Slater with such a look on his face that she stopped talking. “What is it?”, she asked. “Mrs. Slater, what was your maiden name?” “It was Christensen”, she replied. “And what was your brother’s name?” “Fredrick Christensen”. “Mrs. Slater, what the children just told you is true. We have a Christmas ornament exactly like yours. It belonged to my father, Fredrick Christensen.” Mrs. Slater burst into tears. The family tried to console her, but it took a lot of doing. It took even longer for all of them to try and comprehend what had just been revealed.
Mr. Christensen told her how his father and grandfather had made it to the United States. He said how even though his father felt certain his mother and sister had been caught and killed, they still hunted for them for many years, without any results. He told her how his family had lived only 15 miles from here, where he had grown up. He also told her all about his father and his life up until he died about 10 years ago.
When it became clear that Mrs. Slater was his aunt and she wouldn’t be alone anymore, having family once again, it was one very happy occasion with all the rejoicing, tears, hugs, and laughter, and yes, prayers. They all gathered around Mrs. Slater, each one of them took turns, thanking the Lord for this most wonderful, never to be forgotten Christmas.
Mrs. Slater said – “Oh how I wish I didn’t have this arthritis in my hands so I could play my favorite Christmas carol, Silent Night, just one more time!” At that point 15-year-old Anna told her she knew how to play the piano. She had been taking piano lessons since she was 6 years old.
Even though her family could not afford a piano of their own, Anna had become very accomplished as a pianist. When Mrs. Slater asked Anna if she would kindly play her favorite Christmas carol for her, Anna said “That is the most beautiful, beautiful piano I have ever seen, are you sure you want me to play it?”
“My dear Anna,” said Mrs. Slater, “I would be honored to have you play.” Anna sat down at the piano and to everyone’s surprise, every note seemed in perfect tune, even after over ten years of it having remained silent. “Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright round yon virgin, mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild” – they were all singing together, as Anna played the piano. “With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Jesus Lord at thy birth, Jesus Lord at thy birth;” tears of joy and thanks were on all their faces.
When Anna had finished, Mrs. Slater said, “Anna, I have never heard Silent Night played any more beautifully! I don’t want that piano to ever be silent again when it should be ringing out praises to our Lord. Anna, I want you to have my piano, Merry Christmas!”
Anna ran over to where her aunt was sitting and threw her arms around her, giving her a big hug. Anna’s parents were looking at each other in total awe of what the evening had brought.
Just think what they would have missed had they not been obedient to the Lord’s leading them to venture out in the deep snow that night. The one thing their daughter had wanted the most for Christmas was a piano, a piano that they could not afford to buy her!
James and Carolyn Craig said even though it was a Christmas the Christensen’s and their aunt, Mrs. Slater, will never forget, it still wasn’t as joyous as the first Christmas when God sent His son to be born in a manger because of His love for us – as the hymn says – “With the dawn of redeeming love, Jesus Christ at thy birth, Jesus Christ at thy birth.”
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