By Jennifer Gallus
HOWARD LAKE, MN - “Oh, to be a child at Christmas. To behold the wonder of the season with a fresh mind and a young heart,” exclaimed Howard Lake’s First Presbyterian Church Pastor Myra Carroll-Pezzella.
Carroll-Pezzella has spent some time reflecting about an unforgettable image she observed from a young child during Christmas Eve service a few years ago.
That child, Ryan, is very close to her heart. In fact he and his brother, Jonathan, have been like grandsons to Carroll-Pezzella and her husband Al, even though not by relation, since Jonathan was six-weeks-old.
At the time of the “favorite memory,” Ryan was two-and-a-half years old. Carroll-Pezzella was halfway through her sermon during the family Christmas Eve service when she observed, out of the corner of her eye, Ryan slowly walking up the side aisle toward the front of the church unbeknownst to his chaperons.
Carroll-Pezzella continued preaching as the child slowly and silently approached the manger filled with straw and a baby doll.
“Now, if I had known the outcome, I would have stopped my sermon and simply would have watched him, but as we all know, children do the strangest things,” Carroll-Pezzella said.
“He looked into the manger, stroked the baby’s head, and without a sound, he walked over to the lit Christmas tree and stared up at the glowing lights in absolute wonder,” Carroll-Pezzella said. “That little boy made no sound, but he told the story of Christmas in that moment.”
“It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” she added. “It was so pure, and so poignant. It makes me want to cry just thinking about it.”
As adults, Carroll-Pezzella explained that we long to experience the anticipation and excitement that we see sparkling in the eyes of children.
“Over and over in our lives we have heard The Christmas Story. We have sung the carols, and we remember Christmas’ past. But Christmas can have the most impact on us when we allow ourselves to experience it each time, as if we have never heard it before,” Carroll-Pezzella said.
“That’s why we can see Christmas most clearly through the excitement of children. When we take the time to look at how children experience Christmas, we see a different world than the Christmas we see as adults,” she added.
As a child, Carroll-Pezzella remembers oyster stew at her grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve. When she would arrive home after 11 p.m. worship, Santa had already been there.
“The highlight was always the midnight worship service in Minneapolis,” Carroll-Pezzella said. “On the way home, we would look for Santa, and always saw blinking red lights in the sky.”
Carroll-Pezzella admits that Christmas has changed now that their son is grown and lives out of state.
“Traditions are wonderful, but we’re not always able to keep the same ones,” she said. “There’s a certain sense of loss when your children aren’t home for Christmas, but there’s beauty in finding other ways to find family,” she added.
“Christmas is not just for families, but for the family of Christ,” Carroll-Pezzella said.
A new tradition for the Carroll-Pezzella’s is to go to a friend’s house on Christmas Eve after the evening service for coffee and treats, which the couple is enjoying.
Christmas Eve service at First Presbyterian in Howard Lake is at 7:30 p.m.