What's not to like about Christmas? It's a wonderful season. The music and good cheer, bright lights and parties, secrets and stories and sentiment. It's a magical time for children, and a time that as parents we love for our children's sake even as we cherish quietly, and with them, the focal point of the whole celebration--the coming of Jesus to our lives.
This will be our fourteenth Christmas with children, and as I think back on the years and look toward another celebration this month, its the voices of Christmas that come flooding to mind. The voices that have spoken into our choices about what and how to celebrate...
"What if Christmas, [Grinch] thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!”
Three gifts for each child--Gold, something they will value and treasure. Frankincense, a gift to help them meet with God. Myrrh, something to anoint and care for their body.
Sinter Klaus Day, Dec. 6. A first gift to each child in celebration of the caring bishop who provided dowry's for girls without one.
A birthday cake for Jesus on December 25.
Cub scout giving of gifts to needy families. Operation Christmas Child gift boxes. Gifts to men and women serving far away in the military. Gifts to orphans in Africa and others at risk worldwide.
Advent wreath lighting and reflection.
Epiphany remembrance and observance.
Creative and tasty gifts for neighbors.
Crafty holiday touches throughout the house.
Meal traditions for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and Christmas lunch.
Caroling in nursing homes.
Gingerbread houses and cookie exchanges.
"Bah," said Scrooge, "Humbug."
Oh, the list goes on. Each of us with many voices, many choices before us each year as we hurtle from Thanksgiving to Christmas and New Year's. And laid back as we might be, surely we all have to squelch just the vaguest inclination toward a "Bah, humbug" as we spend our December days determined to remember the reason for the season and to keep the meaning the main thing as we live out all the ways of doing that.
Just last week I heard on the radio that many years ago, Christmas was not even celebrated. The church celebrated Easter in a big way, but because birthdays were not celebrated overall, the birth of Jesus just was not a church holy day. The thought. No Christmas, compared to ChristmasofToday. It's a startling dichotomy.
An article by Eugene Petersen tells the story of his family's Christmas when he was eight. Eugene's mother had found a passage in Jeremiah that seemed to speak against the tradition of Christmas trees, and so that year, much to his own and his neighbors' chagrine, his family had no tree. He reflects back now:
Mother, thank you ... for providing me with a taste of the humiliation that comes from pursuing a passionate conviction in Christ. Thank you for introducing into my spirit a seed of discontent with all cultural displays of religion, a seed that has since grown tree-sized. Thank you for being relaxed in grace and reckless enough to risk a mistake. Thank you for being scornful of caution and careless of opinion. Thank you for training me in discernments that in adult years have been a shield against the seduction of culture-religion. Thank you for the courage to give me Jesus without tinsel, embarrassing as it was for me (and also for you?). Thank you for taking away the Christmas tree the winter I was eight years old. And thank you for giving it back the next year.
I don't know that we ever settle into an easy, contented Christmas rhythm. Much as we would like to, the good and the tradition and the holy are so intermingled that, without tossing away the holiday and stepping back a few hundred years, we can't escape the cacophony of voices and choices year by year.
For me, one voice helps bring perspective each time I feel I've failed or fallen irreparably behind. Funny, it's Scrooge again, but later in the story: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
Each day, all year, is a celebration of Jesus' life come to change mine. Each day is the time to spend meaningful moments with family, to care for another in need, to offer a thought-filled gift, to meet God in his Word over the light of a candle. It's a wonderful season, and all the more when we let Christmas illumine each day of our lives.