Jim Bishop: Daylight Reflections on the Night Before Christmas

The words from Ecclesiastes 3-1-2 , “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens, a time to be born and a time to die” came to mind while sitting in the sanctuary the Sunday before Christmas and hearing an amazing string ensemble play a carol that immediately turned back the clock one year.

My mom, Ann Dayton Bishop, died on Dec. 20, 2009, at age 88. My wife’s mother, Edna Mast, passed away in January last year at age 96. They left us, at the beginning and end of 2009, like bookends on the mantelpiece of life.

With both sets of parents gone now, Christmas will seem a bit different as we gather as family to celebrate. But, we’ll have opportunity to remember and celebrate their lives and legacy.

An email message from my brother Michael from Blooming Glen, Pa., greeted me Monday morning at work. Noting that he had just made a brief visit to Mom and Dad’s graveside, he said, “I wanted you to know Mom and Dad are resting well, facing the [Blooming Glen Mennonite} church entrance, which I use daily, and keeping a watchful eye on all activities. They continue to have positive influence on my life and the lives of many others from this community. Though far from perfect, they lived simply, richly and with much joy. May we carry on in like manner.”

Thanks, Mike, I needed that.

This swiftly-waning year has been among the best for wife Anna and me, but we’ve moved through much of it with a mix of expectancy and anxiety. Retirement looms, and that reality hits us more keenly with each passing day as we enter the home stretch of our respective careers in the education arena.

Although I am affected by the short days with frigid temperatures of this time of year, Christmas remains my favorite season. I still feel like a kid at heart. The live, brightly-decorated evergreen in the living room is a more important symbol these days than any presents arranged under it.

Many ornaments bedecking the festive fir contain special meaning or remind us of personal and family highlights. The illuminated manger scene with chipped ceramic figures that Mom and Dad obtained early in their marriage now occupies a prominent spot in our living room and helps recall family times long ago.

My only problem with Christmas is that time moves too quickly through this celebratory period. There’s always a period of adjustment even as I delay dismantling the tree, put away decorations and prepare to face the long, grey month of January.

What aids the transition from Christmas season into the unknowns of the new year is having several days vacation, celebrations with immediate and extended family and frequent gazes at the vibrant blooms of the amaryllis plant I started a month ago. And, it appears that our long dormant Christmas cactus will put on its colorful display one more time.

On one hand, I’m glad Christmas comes but once a year, because we couldn’t afford it to happen multiple times, but the spirit of Christmas can pervade our lives and actions all year long if we remember the reason for the season in the first place.

To me, this reflection from Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) goes right to the point: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

So let our lives and lips express this attitude today and every day.

Column by Jim Bishop. Jim can be reached at bishopj@emu.edu.

Musical Gifts

Join yours truly as I dig into my bag of musical memories and pull out the ingredients for ‘A Christmas Potpourri.’ No, it won’t be the chipmunk or run over reindeer variety, but rather an hour of personal favorite seasonal favorites that will hopefully convey a message of glad tidings of comfort and joy. Make ‘A Christmas Potpourri’ a small part of your holiday celebrations, 6:05-7 p.m. Christmas Eve on newsradio 550, WSVA; online at www.wsvaonline.com.

Instead of the twangy guitar of Duane Eddy, the Boston Pops’ interpretation of Leroy Anderson’s ‘Sleigh Ride’ will open a special holiday edition of the ‘Friday Night Jukebox.’ Host Jim (All I Want for Christmas is a Remco Transistor Radio and Broadcasting System) Bishop plunks more Buffalo nickels into the colorful Wurlitzer and conjures up the ghosts of Christmas past with a “Friday Night Jukebox ‘50s Christmas,” 8 p.m. Christmas Eve on 91.7 FM, WEMC; on-line at www.wemcradio.org.

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