Of all the holidays, Christmas is my favorite. I love the beauty, the joy, the peace, and the good will that seem to shine just a little brighter at this time of year. I suppose I should be more cynical about the wrong in the world — the commercialism, the evil, the selfishness — but I find that Christmas helps to take all that away. Despite the struggles and the striving of life, Christmas brings with it a wonderful power to transform who we are and how we see the world.
I know that for many people, Christmas can be a lonely time, a reminder of the losses and unfulfilled dreams that scream silently into a world filled with the hustle and bustle of gift shopping, holiday parties, family reunions, and a whole host of traditions that carry on around them. They may feel the world is oblivious to their suffering and too caught up in commercialism to stop and care. I’ve done my share of silent screaming and had my fill of sad Christmases: the time my father was out of work and we had no money for presents, the year my mother died a couple weeks before Christmas just days after holding my newborn son, and the lonely evenings when I looked back on my life thus far and mourned the successes that never were.
Hope and the Incarnation
The story, however, does not have to end there. I’ve learned a secret that is so magical, so potent, and powerful, that it has caused me to see those failings and follies and sad goodbyes with new eyes. It speaks to me in the music of Christmas, in the sparkle of the ornaments on the tree, and in the warmth of family and friends at holiday celebrations. That secret is in what Linus said to Charlie Brown at the end of that famous cartoon, in what Kris Kringle shared with all those who came to visit him on 34th Street, and in what moved a young boy to pursue with all the fervor in his being the goal of getting “an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle” for a Christmas present. That wide-eyed childlike excitement is what this season is all about. And it is all possible because of one thing.
Christmas is a time when we remember — dare I even say — relive the birth of the little baby in Bethlehem, when we come face to face with the awesome reality that the God of the whole universe chose to descend into this broken world and become one of us while remaining ever who He is! His coming was pure hope for a weary world, a light in the darkness that could not be extinguished. I have come to see that power and light in everything that I hold dear, especially those beautiful little treasures I pull out at Christmas time.
When I look at the tree, I don’t just see tinsel and lights and shiny ornaments. I see lives lived to the fullest, days of triumph and tragedy, moments of growth and gratitude. Each ornament carries with it a special meaning, a memory from the time it was received and placed on the tree. There is love in each Popsicle stick and pipe cleaner, laughter in every keepsake from family vacations. And there is great joy each time we place them on the tree; for how can I not rejoice in holding a precious memory in the palm of my hand and then placing it in a prominent place to cause all who see it to wonder and reflect. When I sit by the fire, looking at the tree shining in the corner of a dimly-lit room, those memories and their magic come flooding once more into my mind, telling me that, in good times and bad, it has all been about a journey that is uniquely mine and my family’s. There is great wonder in that.
The Christmas Frame of Spirit
Each year, I watch my favorite old Christmas movies, considered nostalgic and overly sentimental by today’s standards. I suppose they are a glimpse into the “good old days” that never actually were, except in the world of cinema. But there is a universal certainty in those stories — a timeless truth that speaks to my heart in that immovable and eternal place that only God can touch. It is summed up in the words of Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street: “Christmas isn’t just a day; Christmas is a frame of mind!” I would qualify that a bit. Christmas is a frame of spirit, something that is intimately and ultimately a part of what it means to be a believer in Jesus. What those movies do is to tap into that spirit and bring us into a deeper awareness of what the coming of Jesus on Christmas is all about.
Many pastors like to focus on Easter: the Resurrection, redemption, and all that this means for us. But I love Christmas. Christmas is Incarnation: God becoming human and living, breathing, working, loving, and dying for us. Christmas is sign! Christmas is Sacrament! I know that can sound like a strange word to some, but to me, everything about Christianity is incarnational and sacramental, a holy, living sign, something you can taste and see and hold and believe. The idea that God came as a helpless baby to be born of a woman, born under the law, to deliver us from the law is astounding.
I sometimes wonder if there are Christians who would be happier if the whole Incarnation thing never really happened, if we just had Jesus appearing and dying for our sins and that was it. I like the thought of my God sweating in the desert when He was tempted and sweating blood for my sins in the garden before He died. To imagine Him touching a leper or a dead young child and bringing each of them new life, to reflect on His making water into wine as a sign of His becoming broken bread and poured-out wine for us, or to see Him casting out the hosts of Hell and calming a storm to a whisper — those are the things that stir my soul and take me to a holy and happy place where the eternal love of God lives and breathes in me.
Our Fragile Hearts, His Timeless Power
I have some beautiful and sad Christmas music that I listen to every year when I sit by the fire to watch the tree with my cup of Earl Grey Tea and my plate of bread and cheese. I like being a little sad at this time because it causes me to take stock of my life: the things I’ve lost and the things I’ve gained, those terrible faults in my character that Christ continues to transform, the children that are growing up all too quickly around me, and the wife who for some wonderful reason loves me still. That feeling is really bittersweet; for the sadness of past remembrances is made new in the joy of each moment that is carrying me forward to wonderful days ahead. In that dreamy, joyful melancholy, I come to touch what the human condition is all about: a fragile, vaporous thing, something that must give way to the One who turns all our tomorrows into a single moment of timeless wonder in His everlasting presence.
This Christmas, as you take out the old and consider the new, take the time to remember that the season means so much more than we can every really take hold of in this life. Celebrate the glimpses of grace that the Savior will share with you as you slow down and reflect on the awesome reality of God becoming man, all for the joy of loving you into heaven and your true home! God bless!