Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Happy Christmas Eve!
Happy Christmas Eve! I love this day, with the quietness and the anticipation of Christmas Day and general warm feeling that seems to exist among friends and family. I was reading a novel by Elizabeth Goudge a few weeks ago and came across a very lovely excerpt to share with you, about the heart expanding on an Elizabethan Christmas Eve. Here is a Christmas Eve revelation from Towers in the Mist :
They were playing an old Nativity play tonight, followed by the story of Saint Nicolas, and he was no sooner in his place than the trumpeter stepped down, the lights in the gallery were hidden, and in a sudden silence, that fell upon the noisy crowd as though the shadow of the angel's wing passed over them, the first figures of the Christmas story stepped upon the stage.
It was very crude and at some other time Nicolas might have been moved to mirth, but he was not so moved tonight, neither he nor a single man, woman or child in that densely packed throng. It was Christmas Eve, and the same stars shone above them as had shone upon the fields of Palestine some fifteen hundred years ago. They sat in a deep and lovely silence, their eyes riveted upon the rough wooden stage where the figures of shepherds moved, and angels whose dresses has shrunk in the wash and whose wings and haloes had become a little battered by so much packing and unpacking, and a Virgin Mary whose blue cloak was torn and whose voice was that of a young English peasant boy who had not so long ago been taken from the plough.
Wedged against the balustrade of the gallery, Nicolas watched and listened in that state of heavenly concentration that leaves the human creature oblivious of himself. He was not conscious any more of the apprentices who pressed upon him, or of the smell of unwashed human bodies, or of his own empty stomach that had been presented with no supper this evening. He was only dimly aware of the crowd as a great multitude that he could not number, watchers in the shadows who had been watching there for fifteen hundred years. The Christmas story itself absorbed him. Though it was so old a story, one that he had known as soon as he was capable of knowing anything, it seemed tonight quite new to him. "Glory to God in the highest...a child is born" The old words he had heard a hundred times over seemed to seemed to cry out with triumph of new and startling news. The figures that moved before him, Mary with the child in her arms, Joseph and the shepherd, Gabriel and the angels, Herod and the Wise Men, that he had seen so many times pictured in stained-glass windows and on the leaves of missals, moved now in this tiny space at the heart of the crowd as though they had come there for the first time... The love of God is with man... That, Nicolas knew suddenly, is the news of the far country, the mystery like a nugget of gold that men travel so far to seek, the fact that is stated but not explained, by all the pictures that have been painted and by all the music and the poetry that has been written since the dawn of the world. It was as easy as that, and as difficult.
The Nativity play ended with a flash and a bang as the devil in black tights appeared to fetch away Herod to where he belonged. No one considered this an anticlimax; on the contrary they were all suitably impressed; this might happen to them if they were not careful. They groaned and shivered and were glad when the lanterns which had been hidden beneath cloaks were uncovered and the auditorium shone out in to brilliance again. This was the interval between the two performances and a roar of voices broke out as though a river in spate had been let loose. Nicolas found that he too was shivering, not with fear but with the very intensity of his feeling, and looked round upon the noisy crowd with sensations that were entirely new. He felt so at one with them. A feeling of superiority had always been one of the most familiar of his pleasures, but now it had entirely gone from him. Those burly perspiring merchants, fat matrons, laughing girls and jolly apprentices, these rogues and vagabonds who pressed about him, seemed as much a part of him as his own body. He did not care that a beery citizen was breathing heavily down the back of his neck or that two filthy little boys were holding themselves steady in a kneeling posture by clinging to his legs. In fact it was a pleasure. He loved them. All of them together were the men whom God was with. He wondered vaguely what he would be feeling like in a few days' time, whether he would be again the old superior sceptical Nicolas... Perhaps... Yet he would never be able to forget what he had felt tonight. He prayed God that he would never forget.