After almost freezing to death in the winter of 1983 (see previous post), you would think that I would have come to a quick realization that Christmas must not be all about the presents under the tree. After all, who would celebrate a holiday each year which puts its participants at that kind of high risk? But, I am a slow learner who needs to be prodded over and over until I understand life's valuable lessons.
2. The Christmas Eve party at my grandmother's house. This is the party where you see all these strange people that your grandmother tells you are your family, but whom you are certain you have never seen before. In attendance are 3rd cousins, great-aunts, and somebody's new boyfriend who definitely looks like he won't be back next year. What I remember about this annual reunion is the tiny artificial tree that sat by the front door (which was never opened during my lifetime). Her tree looked like a set of giant dark green pipe cleaners, and was decorated with ornaments made with love by grandchildren. Every year, grandma gave me a pair of socks. At the time, I remember thinking that she was holding back on us grandkids, but now I understand that for a woman who grew up during the Great Depression, and who was still living off the land (chickens and everything), this was a very intentional, thoughtful, and practical gift.
3. Candlelight services at church. The old hymns, the quiet, peaceful atmosphere of the occasion, singing "Silent Night" under the glow of hundreds of candles. Mostly, though, I remember being a young boy excited about holding an open flame in church without getting in trouble, and dipping my fingers in the hot wax to make shapes with my brothers.I challenge you to think back to your childhood Christmases as well. If you did not grow up in a Christian home, then this may not directly apply to your upbringing. But for those of you who had Christian parents who tried to celebrate the real Reason for the Season, my guess is that your primary memories, like mine, are not of the gifts, but of the traditions of the celebration. If this is true, then doesn't it make sense for us, as Christian parents today, to raise our children on traditions that focus on the Savior, and to let go the stress of buying the "perfect" gift? Like you, we will purchase presents for our children this year. I am excited to give them things because I love my kids so much, but I am convinced that whatever gift-wrapped items they receive under the tree on December 25, 2012 will be completely forgotten within a few years, and certainly by the time they are parents themselves. However, if they are like me, the family traditions will last a lifetime in their minds and hearts, and they will be able to pass them on to their children.
For instance, every year, our kids dress in pajamas, and we load in the Suburban, turn up the heat and the Christmas music and drive all over Catawba County looking at Christmas lights. The total cost of this runs around $5.00 for gas, but our kids always excitedly ask when we are going. Every year, on Christmas Eve, we gather in the living room, read the Christmas Story, and then watch a Christmas movie together. Then everyone sleeps on the floor, on couches, in chairs, etc. so that we will all wake up in the same room next to the tree on Christmas morning (OK, I will admit that Gayle and I usually end up in our bed because our backs can't take the floor anymore). This tradition costs nothing, but again, our kids would not hear of doing Christmas any other way. Most years, Gayle and the younger kids bake a cake on Christmas Day and decorate it with "Happy Birthday Jesus". Again, this is a very inexpensive tradition, but something our family cherishes.
While modern Christmas is largely celebrated by giving gifts, ultimately, our focus must be on God's gift to us. After all, why do we celebrate this season each year? Regardless of what the ACLU might say, the fact that the United States of America chooses to shut down the country on December 25th each year should be evidence that our lawmakers at the time were Christians (or at least honored Christianity). Why else would they do it? And, further, if we are moving toward becoming a nation where it is illegal to place nativity scenes in public places, or to sing Christmas carols in school, or even to call a Christmas tree a "Christmas" tree (instead of Holiday tree), then wouldn't it stand to reason that we should also just go to work on December 25th? Why does a nation legally celebrate a holiday whose instrisic symbols are not allowed to be on display? You can't have it both ways. Obviously, Christmas will not disappear from the calendar in America because of the incredible revenue generated each December for the US economy, but make no mistake about it, we are in a war to preserve truth, and our children and grandchildren will be the recipients of the outcome of the battle.
This morning, our HCA grammar school children sang "Happy Birthday Jesus" by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir during their Christmas presentation. The song begins with these lyrics...
Happy Birthday Jesus. I'm so glad its Christmas. All the tinsel and lights, and the presents are nice, but the real gift is You.
Jesus is the real gift from the Father. Without Him, I am lost without hope. Without Him, eternity is terrifyingly uncertain. Without Him, life has no purpose. We just live, interact with other evolved finite beings, make money, and die. But in Christ, hope springs forth eternal. Life has crystal clear purpose. My miraculous rescue from sin by the very God against whom I have rebelled cannot be explained except through words like:
If you had an incurable disease, and were close to death, when someone you didn't know showed up with a cure that no one thought to exist, and chose to save your life, you would celebrate with great enthusiasm and gratitude, right? Would you tell your kids (in great detail) what had happened? Well the fact is that you do have an incurable disease in sin, and the incarnation of Jesus Christ in the manger provides the only cure. God has offered you the most precious gift possible, the life of His Only Son, so that you may have a cure that will not only get you through your earthly life, but provide eons of eternity in the glorious presence of your loving Creator. An eternity that you can spend with your family in celebration.
So, when you give gifts this Christmas, give them in celebration of Jesus, the real gift of Christmas. He really is the Reason for the Season. Really! Merry Christmas!