Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I have so many warm memories around the holiday that I have always been joyful for the season to arrive. Yet this year, I must confess that has not been the case. I don't know if my husband is wearing off on me (he truly hates Christmas) or if our culture has just so completely bastardized the holiday that any semblance of what it should be is gone. Full disclosure here would necessitate me saying that I've been a little depressed lately in some other areas and the semester is drawing to a close which means a grading frenzy has ensued. Also, the weather has been cold and dreary. Yet, even with that, there's something bigger going on in our culture when it comes to the de-Christ-mas season.
I've been doing a lot of soul searching lately, trying to find what it is about Christmas that I've always loved so much. The thing that comes back over and over again is the warmth. My parents were both educators, and as such had time off during the holidays. We spent that time together as a family, truly enjoying the experience of being together. Our grandparents were usually always with us for the holidays. We played cards, made cookies, watched Christmas movies. But the highlight for Christmas for me was our Christmas Eve tradition. Each year on Christmas Eve, our church has a silent candlelight service of the Lord's Supper. We would go together as a family and sit in the softly lit church. The only sounds were the pianist and organist playing Christmas hymns and the creak of the wooden floors as families came in. The church would be packed, whole families together, grown sons and daughters returning home. Looking around, you could see the contentment on each face. Sitting and looking at the altar, listening to the hymns proclaiming Christ's birth, staring at the golden trays containing the crackers and juice that symbolized the body and blood of Jesus, you couldn't help but contemplate the meaning of the celebration. As the deacons passed around the trays, the pastor, still silent, would lead the congregation in taking the crackers and juice, and you could hear the entire congregation act in one accord. Even my sister and I, before we were old enough to partake of the elements, would bring hard candy to eat at the appointed time so that we too could participate in this sacred act.
After worship, we stepped back out into the cold where we warmly greeted our fellow congregants. You could hear laughter tinkling through the night and calls of Merry Christmas echo down the street. Our family would pile back into the car, and we would head out to see the Christmas lights. We put Christmas music on and headed out of town to a little country drive-through light display. After getting mini candy canes from friendly faces in Santa hats, we drove back to town and through the neighborhoods of the community looking at the lights on display at people's houses. Once home, we would have a dinner of deli meat and cheese sandwiches, decorate cookies, watch a Christmas movie, and head for bed.
Every year, in the early morning hours, my sister would tiptoe into my room and snuggle into bed with me. As we waited for the sun to rise and my parents to wake, we'd spend the time talking and laughing. As girls we talked with breathless anticipation about what might be waiting for us under the Christmas tree. As young women we talked about our hopes and dreams. And as adults, we talk about our own families and experiences. It's our own sacred time that draws us back together as sisters.
Once Mom and Dad were finally up and ready to go, breakfast was in the oven, we went to the tree. But before anything else happened, my dad would read for us the Christmas story out of Luke. We'd listen to the familiar words anew, talk about how the significance of them had changed for us over the year, and remember that greatest gift of all. Only then did we descend upon our own gifts, handing out one at a time and giving everyone a turn to oooh and ahhh over each gift.
Our day would end with family friends, either going to a movie or eating leftover turkey and playing Trivial Pursuit. It was never anything fancy. But, in looking back, Christmas for me always began with the birth of Christ. It was an intentional focus on something beyond ourselves; beyond shopping, and baking, and decorating, and partying. It was simple, it was pure, it was holy. And that's what I'm missing this Christmas season. The simplicity of the message--God came to Earth, the purity of the message--God came to Earth as a newborn baby, the holiness of the message--God came to Earth to sacrifice himself so that we, his beloved creation, could live freely. I don't want to watch an endless parade of commercials blaring on about savings and gifts, and they'll love you forever if you buy this. I don't want my kids to go sit on the lap of some stranger in a red suit who listens to kids spill their hearts out about gifts he can't actually deliver on. I don't want to listen to "Jingle Bell Rock" and I don't want to rock around a Christmas tree. I want to sit again in the silence, to kneel at the manger, to peer into the face of a newborn and know that deep within those eyes lie the answers to all of the mysteries of the universe. I want to be filled with that love that has no bounds and to give that love to others. I don't want to end this season being full, but being filled. I want to truly say to everyone I meet, "Merry Christ-mas!"
Blessings and Peace,