People who have read this blog over the last couple years will be aware of my love for genealogy. For one sample, I posted here about my Philadelphia forebears, a family with the surname West. The West Family is my 88-year-old mother’s line and she is the last known person from her clan. With the common name of West, doing research to locate other family members who might be distantly related to her has always been a challenge.
The last time I was in Philadelphia (doing family history research), I snapped the above picture. My mom and I had driven out to Newtown where she’d lived during her years in boarding school. There’s a historic marker on one of the main roads through town drawing attention to this historic site. An innkeeper named John West owned a tavern there in 1742.
John West was the father of painter Benjamin West who was born on this day in 1738. Little Benjamin would have been about four years old when his father owned this tavern … in the same town where my mother, almost two hundred years later, began her education not a mile from this landmark.
EveryChristmas is a merry one! Spending time with family members who − during the rest of the year − are scattered far and wide, provides us time to love on grandkids, to catch up on some of the challenges and joys and struggles of the past months, as well as to recall, to laugh and to cry about long-forgotten memories and shared history. We all end up exhausted, we eat too much but have trouble fitting dishes full of leftovers into the refrigerator. We down gallons of juice and soda pop and coffee and tea.
The grandchildren (seven of them between the ages of 2 and 10) stay up too late after playing hard all day. They argue with each other about toys and sometimes even break into childish scuffles (not a shrinking violet in the bunch). They pass back and forth through the kitchen claiming hunger, but rarely pause long enough at mealtime to finish what’s on their plates.
While the entire celebration can be wearying, the saddest sound is the silence that hangs heavily in the air once the door closes and everyone has packed into their cars to head home. Still, we go about our busy lives knowing next year we’ll enjoy more sweet days together, attempting to create precious memories for our grandchildren, just as our grandparents and parents did for us.
Like many families, however, we regretfully acknowledge an empty chair. I’ve written before in this blog about our absent son and brother (here and here) so I won’t rehash old ground now. Yet, no matter what family gathering takes place, we know we are not quite whole because of our loved one’s absence. I don’t write this to be gloomy. I’m quite aware of others whose situations are far more troublesome or tragic. And I’m buoyed by the comfort about which Proverbs 13:12 speaks: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”
The artwork I’ve used in the background for this sonnet is a favorite painting of mine, produced by the master painter Rembrandt. The work is based on Luke 15:11-32, Jesus’parable of the prodigal son. Rembrandt’s painting reflects his heartfelt compassion for the subject. Of course, as Rembrandt well understood, this parable carries a deeper meaning beyond a family’s estrangement between its members.
When it comes to our Creator, he longs for all of us to return Home where our separation from him is resolved through the Christ of Christmas. There, at his feet, just as Rembrandt portrays in this painting, our forgiveness and reconciliation is certain and without reserve. A father and son share an embrace that declares past grievances moot … the momentous picture of desire fulfilled.