Monday, December 29, 2014

How to Have A Merry Christmas, Part One - Keeping Christ in Christmas

Note: I wrote most of this three part series...before Christmas. But due to family visiting and two different bouts of sickness, here it finally is...after Christmas. I know I missed the boat, timing-wise, but hey, we are supposed to think of Christ all year long, right?  Just think of this as an opportunity to reflect on this last Christmas season. 

We talk about the magical feeling of Christmas, and it is a feeling that can be solicited by a Child's gasp of joy for the perfect toy, or by the warm glow of receiving a gift that shows the giver really knew you and what you desired.  It comes in easier surrounded by loving family and caring friends, ushered in by their caring love, tender gifts, happy memories together.  The jolly activities, the beautiful concerts and get togethers emphasize the warmth and love we can feel at Christmas. Christmas is a magical time, filled with wonder, excitement, family and friends, parties and celebrations.  It is also almost always also filled with stress about gift buying, stress about money, stress about gift receiving, clutter, cleaning, decorating and then undecorating, and more, more, more - more lights, more stuff, more things.

Running over, under, and throughout all this is the silver thread that reminds us - Christmas doesn't come from a store, and in fact Christmas does mean a little bit more - it means a lot more.  Often we hear that Christmas is not just about getting presents, that it is not about things - instead, it is about giving - giving presents to others.  Or we hear that Christmas is about love, or about family, or occasionally we might hear one voice in the corner of facebook whisper that it is about bringing back the sun and banishing the darkness through rituals like lights and evergreen trees. But these things are not Christmas, as wonderful as they are.  The magical feeling of Christmas is not magic at all - it is the Spiritual witness to our souls of the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

If you are Christian (if not - carry one with banishing the darkness with lights, that's good and historical too), Christmas is about giving, love, and family.  But not just any giving, not just our showing love, not just spending time with our nuclear families.  Christmas is about God sending down his son as the world's greatest, largest gift that ever came in a squirming seven pound (or so) swaddled bundle.  A baby who not only showed the everyday miracle that our gaining a physical body is, or a yearly reminder that every baby comes, 

Not in entire forgetfulness, 
And not utter nakedness, 
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God who is our home.
- Wordsworth

This baby grew up to be our Savior, or Redeemer, who saved us from a fallen word so that we may live with God again.  Our Christmas directly leads to Easter. The true bone deep thrill in our chest and hope in our hearts does not come from gifts or family, not even from earthly love. It comes from God, and from Christ, it comes from knowing that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Like the Primary Song says, "how could the Father show the world of love and tenderness? He sent his son, a newborn babe, with peace and holiness."

Christmas is about family - about our eternal family, about all of God's children, about His love for us, for this world, for all his Creations.  When we give, we echo Heavenly Father's gift. When we love others, we echo His love. When we learn love for all mankind as our family, we love our family like he loves His family - like he loves us. Just like anyone with Children reading this will echo me in saying that truly our kids could give us no better gift this Christmas or any Christmas than truly loving each other and treating each other well. Heavenly Father truly wants us to give the gift of kindness, of giving, of helping to those around us far more than he wants us to simply talk about Christ or Christmas, as great as those things are.

Being happy throughout Christmas truly is not just a product of what gifts we are able to give, what gifts we receive, who we spend Christmas with, whether we even have family or close friends to spend Christmas with at all.  It is not about the size of our trees, the merryness of our situations.  Mary and Joseph celebrated the first Christmas semi out-doors, basically homeless in a transitional move, spending a while in Bethlehem only to move to Egypt, and then eventually up to Nazareth.  Christ got presents, yes, but not on Christmas itself, and when the wise men brought them, Mary and Joseph probably sold the Gold, Frankinsence and Myrrh to move to Egypt, or help out their meagre finances - after all, Christ grew up in humble circumstances, and he needed food and shelter more than Gold.

Keeping Christ, God's love and mercy, and the coming of our Lord and Savior in mind throughout Christmastime might not change our physical circumstances, but it can change our hearts, and give us a Merry Christmas where ever we are, whether surrounded by family, or alone among strangers.

Christmas time is one of traditions - it is not a simple holiday, but rather a celebration that engulfs an entire month, 1/12 of our ever repeating year.  I believe there is room to celebrate Christ, to celebrate His birth and life and meaning while also including the gift giving, the family and cultural traditions, and even especially the innate need for us to conquer darkness at this darkest time of year - for the lights, for the trees, for the holly and for the gaiety.

Despite the length of the Christmas season that stretches before a child gazing longingly at an Advent calendar on the eve of December 1st, we all know that Christmastime becomes the busiest time of the year.  Although we may have the theoretical priorities of Christ at Christmas, if we do not intentionally carve out ways to remember and be like Christ at Christmas all too soon it will be December 25th and we will be sick to our stomachs from too much candy eaten in the morning, trying to track down that one missing small toy piece inevitably thrown away in the bags of discarded Christmas packaging, and trying to help our kids work their presents or watch a movie, and all too soon Christmas has come and gone another year, and we wonder why we feel a fall of disappointment, a fleeting feeling of an opportunity missed.  Quite frankly we will all probably imbibe too much candy Christmas morning anyway, and I have no way to prevent us from throwing away pieces of puzzles or key components to complicated toys.

Throught this short series what I can comment on is what our family has done to keep Christ in Christmas - what our traditions, new and old, were for the holidays this year and how we worked on incorporating the silver thread of Christ and remembering the nativity without exiling Santa, Nutcrackers, Christmas Trees or Pagan (we like pagan) lights to the curb.

Given that I am not publishing this until after Christmas, you not only get to hear our grand plans, but also how it all went down, including the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that I spent 99% of the time in bed for. But who needs perfect plans anyway - it's always more interesting to hear about the messy realities of life, and don't worry, part three will be full of those.

I will start with a narrative through my own Christmases past and how this led me to a better understand of the importance of keeping Christ as the center of my Christmas as part two. Then, like Scrooge, we will move to Christmas Present and talk the nuts and bolts of Christmas traditions for part three. Don't worry, I promise to skip Christmas Future, because I never liked Ghost stories anyway.

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