Kent Bernhardt: The search for Christmas

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 24, 2017

It begins anew every year — the search for Christmas.

I don’t mean the actual day. It’s there on the December calendar circled in red near the bottom, waiting for us just like always.

I’m talking about true spirit of Christmas, the elusive dimension that most of us miss each year.

We search for it in the usual places, starting with the songs of Christmas: “Oh Holy Night,” “We Three Kings,” “O Come All Ye Faithful” and the always heartwarming “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”

We shop for gifts and decorate our homes. The smell of freshly baked cookies, pies and cakes fill the air. But these are mere trappings of Christmas, the wrapping paper on the actual gift.

Where is Christmas? Where is the part of it that’s supposed to fill our hearts?

My search this year took me to a new place, a place I had never been before and quite frankly, hadn’t intended to go.

Two of my “partners in musical crime,” John Brincefield and Kay Peeler, had been preparing some music for a special mass at Holy Angels in Belmont. John had spoken of it so warmly, I asked if I could tag along.

Something in my heart told me I needed to be there. After spending most of December singing Christmas music for others, I needed to find Christmas — for me.

So this past Tuesday, I journeyed to Holy Angels, and I discovered Christmas in great abundance in the faces, eyes and hearts of a special group of beautiful souls with severe intellectual developmental disabilities and delicate medical conditions.

But they are far from unloved and unwanted. Holy Angels sees to that through compassionate care, dignified living and innovative learning programs.

They call them “differently abled.” I like that.

Each year, they participate in the most beautiful nativity scene I have ever witnessed. One by one, they walk or are brought forward to gather around the tiny babe in a manger. They are shepherds, wise men and cattle, all gazing with wonder upon the baby Jesus.

Some speak. Others cannot. Yet they all have a voice. The joy within each of these very special people is overwhelming, almost deafening.

The Holy Angels dance troupe danced not just with their bodies, but their entire being. Their spirit radiated through the room, their faces beaming with unrestrained joy.

They may never carry a football across a goal line, or hit the winning home run. But they brought a fully grown 62-year-old man to tears.

They gave me Christmas.

And they taught me that everyone has a Christmas gift to share with others, just as they shared their gift with me

I hope you find Christmas this year. And maybe you’d like to join me when I return again next year to Holy Angels, where the true spirit of Christmas is not only alive and well, but thriving.

Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury


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