Visions of decorated trees, twinkling lights, ornaments, front window holiday displays, and Santa (even though I’ve never believed in him) flutter through my mind. The sounds of Christmas carols, bells ringing and noisy family gatherings are heard through memory’s ears. The smells and taste of baked goods, holiday frosting, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and cheesecake tantalize my imagination’s senses – all of this as I think of the holidays. I absolutely love this time of year (and it’s about now that I wish the English language had other words to use besides “love”); everything about it from the Salvation Army bell ringers to the over-the-top decorations in downtown Minneapolis. Add a little Christmas snow to the mix and perfection. Close to it, anyway.
And while all of those things are good in and of themselves, I can’t stand what the holidays have become: an over-commercialized, over-marketed, top-sales event of the year for retailers and consumers around the world. Christmas displays hit store shelves in July, or earlier with each passing year, so it seems. Now, I probably shouldn’t say anything since I “salt-n-pepper” my Christmas music in starting November 1st and decorate my apartment the weekend before Thanksgiving, just so I can enjoy it longer – but hauling out Christmas displays in July and announcing Black Friday sales in September (not to mention stores being open on Thanksgiving) is beyond ridiculous. I also don’t think that will be changing anytime soon.
We live in a selfish world. One where the next dime must be pounced on immediately or you’ll miss out on the extra dough that could be lining your pocket or adding cushion to your bank account; all at the expense of community, family and relationships – the things that matter. And it is the latter – the community, the family, and the relationships – that I adore about this time of year, and this includes the amazing, ever-deepening relationship I have Jesus.
Growing up, my family didn’t have much – I still don’t when it comes to material things. We were farmers…close to the bottom of the middle class than we would have liked, but that was okay. A typical holiday (Christmas in particular) would include donning my Christmas dress, going to church, dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s, plenty of food and at least one gift from Mom and Dad and a stocking full of sweet candy or chewing gum and a random brain-teasing toy. Note that I call it typical. Not every year was the same.
There are two Christmases that stand out in my memory above all the rest. There was always food. Mom and Dad made sure we always had food on the table and a roof over our heads – the necessities – but those two years were harder on the finances due to a hard crop year or lower prices in the markets. And while our needs were met, they decided to not do gifts that year and chose to continue giving to those in need through Operation Christmas Child and to spend time doing things as a family. Those years were spent around the kitchen table with good food, baking Christmas cookies, playing board games and watching classic holiday movies. Conversation flowed freely – the topics ranging from school activities to Jesus and more.
Those conversations meant the world to me, especially since I’m a sucker for words and my thirst for the things of God when I was kid was quenched by my mother’s allowing Him to teach us through her. You see, the church we attended taught God’s commandments and Jesus’ life from the pulpit, but never once talked about how to have a relationship with Jesus or what that would even look like lived out on a day-to-day basis. Faith was a Sunday-morning-thing and the rest of the week, you could live as you wanted. It didn’t make sense. It was dark. Empty
Save for the small flame my mother had lit in the window of her soul that shed light where the truth should have been – which to this day shines even brighter; almost like a warm, welcome-home hug. And that light has also spread, by the grace of God, into my life, my heart, my soul and my mind and continues to whet my appetite with His love, mercy and undeserved grace.
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name ‘Immanuel,’ which means, “God with us.’” Matthew 1.23
Two thousand years ago, God came in the form of His Son. He gave up His glory and arrived, wrapped in human flesh; confined to finite humanity. He lived a human life; experienced what I go through on a daily basis. He was tempted. He was betrayed. He felt sorrow, pain and joy. He gave, sacrificially. He taught not just by words, but by example. He lived. He died. He rose again and will return to call His brothers and sisters home. And He loved.
And it is that love, that joy that I allow myself to be covered in, not just this time of year, but all year round. It’s almost like living Christmas every day.