I like to think of myself as both a traditionalist and a romantic. As I have grown older, I have waxed nostalgic, seeking to remember the good old days. The problem is, I don’t remember the good old days, and I have never really established any traditions. At least traditions concerning the celebration of Christmas.
I should ask my sister, but I don’t remember any family tradition growing up. I think we opened one gift on Christmas eve, usually from a grandparent, and usually pajamas, maybe. But other than that, we didn’t sit around as a family and read the Bible story. We didn’t attend the church Christmas Eve service, most likely because it didn’t have one or I am sure we would have, because we ALWAYS were there. Open the church door, and we attended, and usually were the family that hung around to lock it up when everyone was finally gone.
As I think back, there wasn’t any traditional foods that we had. Actually I don’t remember Christmas dinner (brunch, late lunch, or whatever) being a big thing. It might have been, but I don’t remember it. We went to some friends’ house for Christmas Eve in Kimberly and they served oyster stew. I love oyster stew and thought I would start a family tradition for our Christmas Eves. But alas, members of my family don’t enjoy oysters as I do. My wife does, but the kids, not-so-much. I never got that one established.
We used to have a family tradition concerning ornaments for the tree. As a new baby joined the family each extended member of the family gave an ornament (often hand made) to the baby. That was added to the tree over the years. But again, a fire and wear and tear and now no tree for the last three years, that tradition has gone by the wayside. My wife does traditionally buy the grandkids an ornament, as she did this year, but that is her thing, not mine.
Some of you talk about how much you love Christmas music and start listening on Thanksgiving. Me, not-so-much. I have tired of most of it. And if I hear that the weather is frightful one more time I am going to scream. Others of you love to watch The Miracle on 38th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life or the shoot your eye out with the bb gun movie every year. No thanks. There is only so much Clarence I can deal with.
So here I stand. This is perhaps the closest thing I have to a tradition, spending an hour or so with my church family singing, reading, lighting candles, and watching you hurry off to your family. For several years, after this service I hurried off to Anchorage, catching the red-eye and arriving on Christmas morning, the best present of all. But noone live there any more, so there went that tradition. And so it goes.
That whining over, let me say, despite my lack of any real traditions, I love this day. I am sure that December 25th was not the day Jesus was actually born. I know that this week was a Roman holiday celebrating the season change which included gifts, parties, family and friends, decorations and traditions. I know that but I don’t care. For me it is the redeeming a day. This may have been a pagan date, but we, the church, has remade it into a holy day. Christians do things like that, because our savior does that with us.
For me, there are two clear days (both redeemed days as a matter of fact) that worth celebrating. This one when the Word became flesh, the day that that Word came forth from the grave. The significance of this day can never be overstated. We are who we are, what we are, and why we are because the Word became flesh. I was once a sinner. Now I am saint. I was once lost. Now I am found. I once had no hope. Now I have all the hope in heaven. I was once God’s enemy. Now I am his friend, his child, his beloved. Though I have always been loved by him, I now know I am loved. So in the presents, decorations, food, family, friends, carols, and all the other trappings, some good, some not so good, though not a traditionalist, I remain a romantic. As I read of shepherds, wise men, and Mary pondering these things in her heart, I too ponder them, and grow emotional.
For me, Christmas is not really about what we did as a kid, or as a young family. Christmas is about what I am. When I think of that manger, and the cross which lies ahead, that is when my emotions stir. My nostalgia is not found around a tree and eating spiral cut ham and yams, it is found in a savior (whose birth I am celebrating) being the gift that I am presented. So on that silent night, that holy night, when all was calm and bright God became flesh, and became my savior, our savior. There is no greater gift in all the world than that.
So Merry Christmas. May you find the hope of eternal life, the hope of a holy life among the gifts you receive tonight and tomorrow. And may God bless us one and all.