Beneath the Christmas Tree

By Ray Goldrup

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    For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).

    The old clock ticked in the dusky light like a tired heartbeat, and the windows in the small living room were filled with the soft, crimson glow of a going-down sun. Eric listened to the ticking as the light in the windows turned from red to gray to black.

    From where he lay with Sparky beneath the scraggly branches of the Christmas tree, he could see a falling star plummet past the square of glass. Down, down it came. It was as if God was sending the fiery light to light somebody’s Christmas tree—somebody who was too poor to have an ornamental star for the top of his tree.

    “Could be Jess Crowley’s place,” Eric said quietly to the perky little pup whose eyes and lip jerked in sleep. “Or Carrie Ludlow’s. Or maybe even ours. If it was ours, Sparky,” he figured out loud, “someone gave the angels the wrong address, because it landed farther from here than good fortune.”

    Good fortune had not been their lot, it seemed to Eric, for longer than his eight-year-old mind cared to remember. His mother had died three years before, and his father had barely escaped death in a car accident a year later. The accident had left him too disabled to work. If it weren’t for the kindnesses of ward members, Eric speculated to himself, and the saving assistance from the Church, I don’t know what would become of us. With that computer someone left on our doorstep last year, though, Dad’s been able to get some jobs working at home. “So don’t you worry about not having a place to hang your hat,” he spoke aloud to the little dog, “or whatever it is dogs carry around with them—besides fleas, of course.” He chuckled softly, stroking Sparky’s head.

    Twisting and peering through the open living room door, Eric could barely make out the sleeping form of his father in the room at the end of the hall. A spray of moonlight hazed across his bed. The boy eyed the figure affectionately. Dad was strong in the faith and had taught him to be so too. Dad had also taught Eric that they had problems in their lives not because Heavenly Father was punishing or ignoring them but because He loved them, knew what was best for them, and wanted them to grow and be happy. In spite of their sadness.

    Eric stretched out beneath his worn, frayed blanket. There was plenty of room under the tree, even though it was just two days before Christmas, for there were only two presents there. The one wrapped gift was a little bird for his father that Eric had fashioned out of wood at school. His father loved birds. He said a bird could get closer to heaven than most of the rest of us, “except when we pray. And except for your mother,” he added warmly, “who may at this very moment be walking and talking with the Savior himself!”

    The other gift was from Dad to Eric: Sparky. Dad had given the pup to Eric early. “It’s too hard to wrap up a dog,” Dad had said, “and expect her to lie still under a Christmas tree until some boy unwraps her!”

    Eric gently stroked the puppy’s fur that was every bit as soft and warm as Dad’s love. He could hardly wait for the day when the little dog was big enough to run full tilt next to his flying feet.

    He reached up and touched a tiny glass ornament glowing in a speck of moonlight that had found its way through the window and down through the shadowy branches of the scraggly pine.

    “It sure does have a regular shine when the moon works on it, doesn’t it?” The voice came from behind Eric. His father sat down beside him in the sooty light, a blanket draped about his shoulders.

    “I was trying to be quiet so I wouldn’t wake you, Dad.”

    “You didn’t, Son. The bedsprings did. I rolled over and heard a chorus of rusty voices!” He chuckled, then ran his fingers through the boy’s golden hair. “I saw you in here camped out under the tree with that little fur piece of yours, and I thought I’d tuck you in.”

    Eric smiled. His attention momentarily returning to the glitter of the glass ornament in the moon’s glow, he turned it slowly and watched the flash of revolving light.

    “Something else shines just as pretty as that,” his father remarked. “It’s love, when the Savior puts His shine to it—except that glow is much, much brighter. It’s so bright, in fact, that you almost have to close your eyes to see it!”

    Eric’s quiet, probing look asked his father to tell him more.

    “This tree may be little and spindly, but the stable in Bethlehem wasn’t much to look at either—yet it held the greatest gift of all, God’s gift to all mankind, even Jesus Christ. And what He gave to you, me, your mom, and everyone else that ever was, is, or will be, is something so precious and priceless . …”

    Eric squeezed his father’s hand with quiet understanding.

    “Well,” Dad continued with a smile through his tears, “if we were to try to hang His gifts to us on this tree, they would break every branch. And if we tried to stack them beneath it, we’d break our necks trying to look up. And up. All the way to heaven. Where your mom is waiting for you and me.”

    “I guess we have more for Christmas than what every store in the world has in it put together,” Eric said, “and a lot more, huh, Dad?”

    Dad lay down next to his son and hooked his arm as a pillow under Eric’s head. Together they gazed up into the dark branches of the little tree and shared memories that shined like hope and faith and the sweet surety that families can be forever, that things eternal never die—all because of one small Babe born long ago in the city of David, Bethlehem, and placed in a manger there.

    Illustrated by Mark Robison