Christmas Past…and Present
Christmas, the time of year, brings many emotions as our thoughts of the holiday are formed by our past experiences. My parents were fully involved in Christmas. My father sold Christmas trees from his salesroom, formerly known, as recently as a few weeks before, as the family’s two-car garage. My mother made wreaths and other items in her workshop, which also doubled later that day as the dining room table. The look and smell of Christmas was evident throughout the property because everyone’s clothes had a dab of pine pitch somewhere on them.
When I was a child, my family had certain traditions. Not only did we have family time (and gifts) on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, but we also celebrated Christmas Eva, when my mom, dad, and myself, each opened one gift. My dad, always up for any reason to have special food and a gift, thought it would be good to celebrate Christmas Eva-Eva when we would open gifts received from various vendors that he worked with. Year after year there were at least four celebrations, each with their own traditions of food associated with them. It was a wonderful time spent between the dining room table and the cracking fire in the fireplace. The kitchen was filled with the smells of freshly baked pies and the living room smelled of the various logs burning in the fireplace.
I think back to 70+ years of church Christmas programs, of my involvement, or our children’s involvement, and eventually our grandchildren’s involvement. We laughed, because many of the programs included young boys whose voices were changing or innkeepers who lost their ability to speak their one line. Each program had its own rendition of Joseph or Mary, of an angel, or of Herod. I think back to multiple Christmas cantatas, another tradition, in which Ruth and I sung. I still remember some of the songs that made a great impression on my mind and heart.
Traditions are good. Christmas plays at church are good. Cantatas are good. We can spend much time looking back at them and also looking back at the birth of a Savior. The church plays, done by Mrs. Allerding’s Sunday School kids, remind us of the details of that first Christmas.
It is good for us to remember. The birth of the infant, who really was no infant at all. He was Immanuel, “God with us.” The gifts of the wise men. The appearance of the angels to the shepherds. It is easy to remember all of that as a past event that occurred more than 2,000 years ago when actually it is an ongoing event…in our lives…today…and tomorrow.
The angelic host proclaimed to those shepherds, “Fear not, for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” The angels say those exact same words to you and to me today. “Fear not!” The Jesus Child came to dispel fear and to bring peace into our lives today. Many years later, the Baby told us we would face many tribulations in the world, and then added, “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
The Baby, who would be taken to Egypt to keep from being killed, would later face death on the cross to give eternal life to all who believe on Him. The Baby, who came to give us life, would give up His own. The One who came to bring peace was killed in the most brutal of man’s ways.
The Birth, the Baby, the family traditions, the church plays, sometimes serve up a rather nostalgic collection of remembrances of a time gone by. But for today? Many are facing loss from the pandemic. It may be the loss of health or the loss of a dear loved one. Many families are torn apart by disagreements and fights over masks or vaccines. Many churches have seen splits in the past two years with the devastation that causes. We attend “church” on a TV or computer screen.
Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to that idyllic time, to those feel-good traditions of some yesteryear? The times which we remember with fondness that they happened, and with sadness that they are gone? We know that we cannot go back to the traditions of a different time. But the promise that the Baby brought was not for a time long ago, or even pre-pandemic. The Baby’s promises of good tidings of comfort and joy are as much for our right now as they were the moment the angel proclaimed them.
Luke 2:10-14 KJV And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. (11) For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (12) And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. (13) And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, (14) Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
I do not know what you are facing this Christmas season. I do know that the pandemic has been difficult for me. It has reduced much of my ministry to those who are grieving. While I am not a gregarious person, the lessened contact with people has been difficult. I have lost many friends to death in the past two years. Church on-line and then moving to a different church has not been what we have wanted. The vitriol that is expressed by those with differing opinions has broken friendships. The inability of government leaders to govern causes our nation to flounder. Society’s embracing of sin adds to the sadness.
And some of you have experienced much worse, far deeper pain.
And yet…the Baby did not put a deadline on His promise. The “good tidings of great joy” shall be “for all people.” The good tidings are as much for you and me today as they were for those shepherds that joyous night. The good tidings are as much for today as they were before we knew what a pandemic was. The Baby, who went to the cross, who rose from the grave, who ascended into the heavens, is, even now, preparing a place for His children, and is coming back for us. It is His promise.
The Baby, carried about by His mother Mary, is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah. The Lion who is worthy to open the Book, to redeem His people. The Baby in the manger is also the Coming King. The Baby who came for us, also lives in us.
Maybe this is a Christmas not to look back at family traditions, not to look back at what we have lost, but to look around at the world in which God has called us to minister, and to look up for that “blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”
We do agree that the glorious appearing is far closer now than we ever imagined…don’t we? And while we are sad for the people and traditions that we have lost, we look up. The Baby, now called the Blessed Hope, is closer today than He has ever been.