So many moments of deep beauty in life seem to jump out and grab your hand when you aren’t paying attention. That’s why we’ll always need children. They aren’t afraid to clutch your fingers and pull you into the moment. That is what happened with the golden geese yesterday afternoon. I can’t believe I almost missed it.
The sun had already fallen behind the trees. The day was in its humble retreat. A layer of transparent gold was rolling itself over the blue sky. The girls were dancing on the front walkway to Christmas music. And then they stopped as their heads shot upwards. “Dad, look: geese!” Nora wouldn’t stop at that. “Look! Over there! They look gold.”
We all looked up as the flock in V formation passed over our house, maybe forty feet above us. Nora was right. The setting sun, which we thought was nearly gone, had painted the underbellies of the geese with gold. As they flapped their wings in unison, the gold light shimmered. Their voices broke through the quiet, cackling in joy about the heat that lay in store for them. What might it be like to fly as a family, as a tribe, up above the tree line?
Those golden geese etched themselves on the stone of my memory. They were heading south, as they do each year. They were making a journey toward heat, leaving the cold behind their feet . . . flapping gold fleeing the cold. We wouldn’t see their arrival, only their exit.
The same could be said of every human soul. “We won’t see their arrival, only their exit.” That doesn’t have to be melancholy. We stood in the grass marveling at the golden geese as they flapped away from us. We were happy for their future arrival. We were also happy to watch their present exit.
I think about death often because, as a teenager, I watched my father die. The experience shattered me. I was not happy to watch his exit, though I believed in his arrival with God, his unseen migration to the land of life. Christmas, for me, is a time for the Spirit to rejuvenate that belief. It’s a time for golden geese to overtake the memories of white hospital sheets and the smell of astringents. It’s a time to remember that, in Christ, beginnings replace endings, light replaces darkness, migration replaces melancholy.
Christmas is for the golden geese and for those of us who stare into the sky, happy just to have seen the travel. What grounds do we have for such happiness? Just these: that on a night when no one suspected anything of happening, the gold light of eternity took on arms, legs, and skin. He came to lead our migration, to be the point of our flying V, taking us into the country of God, where geese are always gold and hope is always green.
More Advent readings await!
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