Christmas makes me feel like a kid again. Like I’m ten-years old sitting in the kitchen at Grandma Ham’s house on Christmas Eve, anxious and giddy about what Santa might bring. But as I come out of that hazy fog of fond memories, I realize that was twenty-five years ago.
Here I am, days from turning thirty-five, a father to four beautiful children, and we’re having Christmas at my house. I see how this movie will play out and I so desperately want to press pause—to cherish these moments with all of you sitting around our kitchen table drawing cards for your Meme on Christmas Eve. I can feel your excitement radiate from your little bones and it warms my heart, but I know that these moments will come to an end. In fact, there will be a Christmas when I won’t be around to celebrate with you. So, I wanted to take a minute and write a few things it has taken me years to understand and a few things that I treasure about Christmas.
There Will Come a Christmas…
There will come a Christmas when you’ll look up and realize that those you love are no longer with you. My earliest memory of losing someone is my Grandma Sheneman, Meme’s momma. She was such a sweet and gentle lady who used to meander around in a bathrobe and slippers, gently chuckling and sharing a kind word about everyone she encountered. She died when I was fourteen. Soon after, was Paw Paw Ham. Then, Aunt Trish. Then, Paw Paw Sheneman. And finally, Grandma Ham.
Their memory is always fresh at Christmas and the pain of losing them stings just a little bit more. I think it’s because Christmas always brought out the best in them. I don’t share that to bring you down, rather to encourage you to embrace those before you. There will come a Christmas when your grandparents won’t be here, and eventually, your Mom and me. Instead of living in the memories of Christmas past or dreading the thoughts of Christmas future without those you love, choose to plant yourself and your thoughts in the soil of Christmas present. There’s a peace you’ll find in each moment, when you learn to be present, that transcends time.
The past and the future can do nothing but rob you of this present moment. There is certainly time for reflection and time for anticipation, but never live fully in those places. Visit them from time to time, but always with the purpose of enriching this very moment. That is the birthplace of peace.
Make Sure You Laugh and Sing…
I think too many people overlook the simplicity of laughter and singing. Whether it’s the fact that they’re caught up in what others will think or whether they’re allowing sadness to keep them silent, they refuse the joy of laughter and song. Please, no matter what, never let your circumstances steal your laughter or your song—especially at Christmas.
Last night, I watched Christmas Vacation with your mom as we prepared the Christmas Eve meal. We laughed and it was good. Another thing that makes a great laugh is remaking the lyrics to Christmas songs and telling old stories. A belly laugh does something to your bones that makes them burn with joy and keeps you warm. So, laugh often and laugh hard. Lock away those great memories and retell them often as a way to keep laughter close by.
And, sing. I don’t care if you think you can’t or if you’re worried about not knowing all the lyrics, sing. Singing does something deep down, like a release of your innermost person that calls you deeper. While I enjoy the fun Christmas classics like White Christmas or The Twelve Days of Christmas, I really love the songs about the birth of our Savior. Be sure to listen closely to the lyrics of O Holy Night, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and Joy to the World. They speak of the essence of hope and hope never disappoints.
Laughter and singing help you feel the essence of the hope Christmas. Instead of just going through the motions, it helps embed you in the experience. Life is too precious to be lived, you must learn to feel it. When you do, you’ll find hope nearby.
It’s More Than a Tradition…
Christmas has become such an overstimulated tradition for much of the Western world, but I’m not one who frowns upon that. I think it’s beautiful and speaks to the seeds of truth behind why we’re actually celebrating.
Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th and many of the images you’ll see of stables and camels never actually happened. But there was a baby named Jesus born to a virgin named Mary and her husband Joseph. That baby Jesus would grow up to proclaim himself as the Son of God and because of His profession, He was crucified by the Roman government only to be raised from the dead three days later. That is a fact. History proves it. And for nearly 2,000 years the world at large has celebrated this Jesus at Christmas. This man named Jesus changed the course of the history of our world. And at some point in your life, you will be forced to wrestle with the truth about Jesus.
I will never force belief on any of you. In fact, I can’t. The truth about Jesus can only be received. Like the gifts you get at Christmas, you can reject them in your own ingratitude and logic, or you can welcome them with gratitude and faith. The picture of Jesus and the true spirit of Christmas is a picture of humility and generosity unsurpassed by anything in the history of our world.
God With Us
As I have come to learn, He was, in fact, Immanuel, God with us. He wasn’t a rule-bearing dictator who demands our allegiance, but a loving Father who was willing to join us in our mess. He humbled Himself to be with us, so it’s fitting that we will only find Him in our own humility. When we’re willing to see beyond the nature of our pride and self-centeredness and understand that we are not the story itself, but part of a much bigger story, we will find our life’s meaning and purpose. And just as he was poured out for us, we find Him when we are willing to pour ourselves out for others. And that is why you always give. Give everything you have for His purposes—your time, your money, your talents, your life—and you’ll know joy.
To my family: for that Christmas when I’m not here to tell you, I want you to know that my greatest desire for you is peace, hope, and joy. Live in each moment, laugh and sing from your innermost being, and come to know truth of God with you. Each of you are a treasure that God has given me while I’m here on this earth. And because of Him, an eternity awaits us. Merry Christmas, I love you.