Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Magic of Christmas

It is always hard for me to let go of Christmas. 
The fall months are my favorite time of year – all leading up to Christ’s birthday.  For our family, the celebrations begin with birthdays for my wife and I in August and September.  Then each year fun marks October as our children pick out costumes to wear on Halloween.  As the bright leaves of October begin turning into November’s duller hues, my oldest son has a birthday the first week.  After that celebration, we anticipate Thanksgiving, trying each year to give the holiday more attention than simply one Turkey Day.  I pull out some CD’s with traditional Thanksgiving hymns, and we read stories of the Pilgrims.  Thanksgiving Day (or the weekend thereafter) our family works on our Thanksgiving tree, each one writing down specific matters of thanksgiving on construction-paper leaves. 
Thanksgiving afternoon includes Daddy pulling out the sale papers and making strategic plans for Black Friday!  Christmas is the only season when I really enjoy shopping (and when I give myself permission to really splurge and enjoy spending).  Black Friday finds me most years leaving the house hours before the rest of the family awake.  And over the course of that weekend, as Thanksgiving hymns give way to Christmas ones, the Advent season comes alive once again! 

Our family enjoys the various aspects of December.  Tree-decorating always stands out as one of our favorite experiences.  We love unpacking the various ornaments – many that we have forgotten since packing them eleven months ago – and enjoying the memories associated with them.  We have fun Hallmark collectibles ranging from superheroes, Disney characters, and movie nostalgia.  There are classy, blown-glass ornaments including Santas, manger scene people, and drummers from Colonial Williamsburg.  Small treasures adorn our tree as keepsakes from the places we have traveled – a clear holy family that we obtained at The Biltmore House on our honeymoon, a small Ryman Auditorium from Nashville, a beautiful one replicating the barn at The Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, and a red round ball with the inscription “Thomas Road Baptist Church” which we bought to remind us of our December-trips to Lynchburg, Virginia.  There are even ones that remind us of friends from long ago – childhood friends, our families of origin, a star that deflects the light of the tree that was given to me in memory of a dear old friend, Gloria Taylor (the person who gave it called it my “Glo Star” to remember that sweet woman).  During the month we can hear Kermit the Frog sing the rainbow song, the Indiana Jones theme song, and Linus repeat the Christmas story as our children press various buttons on the ornaments with batteries!  What fun are Christmas trees!

We enjoy reading books about Christmas.  One series we have used in recent years explains from a Christian perspective the traditions of the candy cane, the Christmas stocking, the Christmas tree, and the history of Saint Nicholas.  What a rich heritage surrounds Christmas.  I suppose one reason that Christmas is so wonderful is that, whether the world understands it or not, it is as if the modern world adjusts their lives for one month to remember and celebrate what happened at Bethlehem.  You can turn on virtually any radio station – country, rock, classical – and hear people singing about Jesus Christ.   On our CD players we hear The Robert Shaw Chorale singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” The St. Olaf Choir sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” Nat King Cole roll out “The Christmas Song” and “A Cradle in Bethlehem,” Kenny and Dolly frolic and play with “I’ll Be Home with Bells On” Michael Buble croon with “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” Alabama share “Christmas in Dixie,” and The Oak Ridge Boys add my children’s favorite from this year – “A Peterbilt Sleigh!” 

People often take time to be friendlier, to show generosity, compassion, and goodwill during December.   People share their goods with the needy and hungry, often purchasing toys or meals for children or families in want.  Church services abound with songs about Jesus, festive lights and colors, and genuine wishes of cheer and blessing to one another.  Dickens also said, I have always thought of Christmas as a good time; a kind, forgiving, generous, pleasant time; a time when men and women seem to open their hearts freely, and so I say, God bless Christmas!
In early December our family celebrates the birthday of our daughter, often by taking a road trip to Lynchburg, Virginia, to experience The Virginia Christmas Spectacular, a fantastic Christmas show at Thomas Road Baptist Church.

Yes, to me it is the most wonderful time of the year.  Charles Dickens wrote, “There seems a magic in the very name of Christmas.”

I enjoy giving.  I often don’t have the money to give the type of gifts through the year that I would like to people I love.  But Christmas offers an opportunity to find ways to express your love and appreciation to those around you.  I find it a great yearly joy to prepare and give those over-the-top presents for my own children and to enjoy their pleasure in them.  (We chuckled happily at our seven-year old falling on the floor as though he were fainting when he saw that Santa had left him not one or two but six Star Wars action figures!)

The few days before and after Christmas offer time to devote almost completely to the family.  For my wife and I, that may be the best gift of all.  To have a few days to spend in almost uninterrupted leisure together – that is surely a taste of heaven on earth.   Each year I am surprised afresh at how little I long for the outside allurements around Christmas.  Email and surfing the internet hold little appeal, I don’t want to spend any more money on anything after the gifts are purchased, there is little pleasure in engaging the outside world of stores, shopping, and the like.  I suppose it is because when you have focused on Jesus and His coming for weeks, when you have given your best to those you love, and when you take time to really enjoy the people around you – that indeed is  a blessed, contented taste of heaven.  Time to play long with the children without feeling the need to "hurry it up."  Time to say, "What do you want to do," and mean it!  Time to get on the floor and engage the children and play with their toys in their world.  Time to talk with your spouse and enjoy the blessings of marriage!

Oswald Chambers rightly says that the real test of spiritual maturity is not how well one does on the mountain but how well he descends the mountain.  As we walk forward with the afterglow of Christmas 2012  on our backs and still ringing in our ears, may we remember the words of Charles Dickens, “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.” 

May we remember and live our lives in light of the things that really do matter.

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