It was the night of Christmas. All was calm, all was bright, as the perennial hymn has it. But all was not bright in the Perera family with their five year old struck down by a terminal illness. His time too was running out, as time was running out for the current year, but prematurely. His doctors had fore-warned his condition and so he was sent home for Christmas.
The parents had spruced up the house better than other years as their now meagre finances permitted. They knew he wouldn’t have another Christmas and so they did their best to make things bright for him. The Christmas Tree was installed in his room, all lit up, at which he gazed with the never-ending wonderment of the child. “Christmas Tree! Oh Christmas Tree! .... “.
His 8-year-old sister kept vigil at his bed-side crooning his favourite Christmas carol, now in Sinhala, now in English. “Long time ago in Bethlehem. So the Holy Bible says ....” In the drawing room, the radio was wafting the strains of “This comes to pass when a child is born...”
The boy brightened and lifted himself ever so slightly as his enfeebled body permitted. A smile strayed on to his wan face. They went to a front pew close to the stable. Very kindly some people moved out to accommodate them. But the boy insisted on lying on the floor close to the stable
But this child would soon be gone pondered the mother as the tears rolled down her cheeks. How soon she could not envisage. However she went on with her preparations to make the day as wonderful as possible for the child. The boy was restful that day and murmured to the mother that he would like to attend the mid-night mass, the church being close by. He wanted to hear the singing in the church and see the crib there. The parents were distraught. He was too weak to be moved about. But he pleaded “Please amma! Please thattha!” The father attempted to appease him. “You see, Santa will come tonight. I will stay with you. Let amma and akka go for the service” “But I want to see the infant Jesus in the stable, not Santa. I am too tired for Santa but baby Jesus will be sleeping in the stable and I want to sleep with him.”
The parents could not help but yield to his pleading against their better judgement. After all it was his ardent wish; at this stage of his illness there was nothing to gain or lose. So wrapping him in the warmest, most comfortable clothing they took him to church.
The father and mother taking turns to carry him in their arms with the little girl in a pretty Christmas frock tagging on clinging to one or the other.
The night was calm; the night was bright. The boy gazed at the stars in the night sky in the arms of his mother or father in turn, murmuring from time to time - enthralled. They reached the church. Oh! how it was lit up and decorated! The boy brightened and lifted himself ever so slightly as his enfeebled body permitted. A smile strayed on to his wan face. They went to a front pew close to the stable. Very kindly some people moved out to accommodate them.
But the boy insisted on lying on the floor close to the stable. The parents were flustered but complied. They sat on the floor, the mother cradling the child on her lap. He lay there peacefully; as peacefully as the babe in the crib lulled by the strains of the carol ‘’Away in a Manger.’’
Be near me Lord Jesus I ask you to stay;
Close by me forever and love me I pray;
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care;
And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.
The mother gently left him with the sister and went up to receive communion when the time came. When she quickly returned she could not spot the child. She panicked momentarily and looked about. He had crept on to the spacious stable and lay in a long, long, deep, peaceful sleep on the straw, a smile hovering about his lips, while the soft cadence of the perennial carol filled the midnight air.
...All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace...