As 2010 came to an end, our family, gathered together in our mountain chalet in the Colorado Rockies, experienced our first significant snowfall of the season. That welcome gift of life-sustaining moisture reminded us of how dependent we are on God’s gift of life.

But celebrating Christmas and Christmastide with family also brought home the message that, other than God, family is all we have to sustain us on this troubled planet. Which, in turn, inspired me to write this week’s blog, thoughts that doubtless came to millions of other parents and grandparents, who waited, as we did, for all the children to come home.

Can there possibly be three more poignant words in the English language than these?

For weeks, the house has been getting ready:

Food is purchased and hauled in, load after load of it, until the refrigerator/freezer, the pantry, and even the overflow freezer downstairs, all are filled to the bulging point.

Christmas decorations are brought down from the rafters of the garage, as are the outside Christmas lights (defying logic, all snarled together as usual), and the half-century-old creche (purchased in Latin America).

Guest bedrooms are spruced up, the bedding fresh from a recent washing. Shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotions for dry skin, hair dryers, towels (in the bathrooms), all are positioned for use.

The overworked vacuum cleaner grows tired and irritable.

Goodies such as English toffee, breads, pies, cookies, and cakes are made.

Load after load of firewood is brought in and stacked on the lower deck.

New board games for the family are purchased in city malls.

Presents and stocking-stuffers begin to stack up in the quilt-room. Much better-hidden are the trading-game gifts, for secrecy in the annual trading game is an absolute must.

Airplane arrival schedules are posted in the kitchen by the telephone; each vacation day’s proposed activities discussed by phone and e-mail with the children (long-since grown, but our children still).

Cots and foam mattresses are brought in from the garage.

Tired-looking kitchen stools are hauled away by the garbage man, and new ones purchased as replacements.

Both SUVs are cleaned inside and out.

Nor are Charlie the chattering squirrel,. Foxy Lady and her numerous progeny, or the ever-hungry birds forgotten.

* * *

Like the explosive finale of a fireworks, spectacular, the pace of preparation during nthe final 48 hours builds to a crescendo: the towering Norfolk Pine is bedecked with multicolored lights; outside, the Christmas lights are positioned under the eaves, on the outside stairway banister, and in a nine-foot lodgepole pine halfway down the driveway. More of the Dickens Village is lit. Candles and decorations add to the festive mood. The creche is set up in its usual place of honor. Seven bright red stockings hang from the fireplace mantel; just below, a roaring fire in the fireplace is but a scratch of a match away. Flight arrival times are checked and re-checked. Presents, now wrapped in bright Christmas paper, are stacked under the Christmas tree.

* * *

It lacks but one thing—and that one thing comes at last, to the tune of automobile lights in the driveway, slamming car doors, impatient grandkids racing up the steps; then the door is swung open, wafting down the stairs the fragrance of candles, burning pine and aspen, home-cooking, and German stollen slowly rising in the oven–then glad cries, hugs, kisses, and tears.

As for the house, with a giant sigh it plumps its feathers. All its chicks are home at last—and Christmas has come once again.