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 this year, I had the stark realization that those memories are twenty-five years old.
It’s hard to believe, but I’m days from turning thirty-five. I’m no longer the little kid. I’m a father to four beautiful children and we’re having Christmas at my house. For whatever reason, that reality has been a hard pill to swallow this year. As I sit and watch my kids gather around our table to make Christmas cards, I desperately want to press pause. The busyness of life, especially at Christmastime, attempts to rob me of the joy of the moment. And I don’t want that to happen because I know there will be a Christmas when I won’t be around to celebrate with my family.
So this year, for a moment, I want to pause and write a letter to you at Christmas to share a few of the things that I treasure about the season.
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. She was a sweet and gentle lady who used to meander around in a bathrobe and slippers, gently chuckling and sharing a kind word. My mom told me that Grandma Sheneman used to give her extra money at Christmastime to buy asparagus for her favorite casserole. It’s the little things that you remember the most.
Grandma Sheneman died when I was fourteen. Soon after, Paw Paw Ham passed away. Then, Aunt Trish. Then, Paw Paw Sheneman. And finally, Grandma Ham. Their memory is somehow more poignant at Christmas and the pain of losing them stings. I think it’s because Christmas always brought out the best in them. In a way, it brings out the best in all of us. At Christmas, if even for a moment, hope is real.
Charles Dickens was right. There will be a temptation for you to become lost in the memories of Christmas past or worry about Christmas future. But if we’re not careful, the past and future have the capacity to rob us of the joy in each moment. This year, choose to be rooted in the soil of Christmas present. Find peace in each moment. You can visit the memories of Christmas past or look with anticipation toward Christmas future, but always do so with the purpose of enriching this present moment.
Make Sure You Laugh and Sing…
Whether it’s worry about what others will think or sadness because of circumstance, too many people refuse the joy of laughter and song. Please, no matter what, never let your circumstances steal these from you—especially at Christmas.
Last night, I watched Christmas Vacation as we prepared the Christmas Eve meal. We laughed and it was good. A belly laugh does something to your bones that makes them burn with joy and keeps you warm. Laugh often and laugh hard. More importantly, lock away the great memories and retell them often as a way to invite joy.
And, sing. I don’t care if you think you can’t or if you’re worried about not knowing all the lyrics—sing. It does something deep down and releases the pent-up energy that easily becomes tarnished. I enjoy the fun Christmas classics like Here Comes Santa Claus or Jingle Bells, but 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.
Life is too precious to just be lived, you have to learn to feel it. When you do, you’ll find hope nearby.
It’s More Than a Tradition…
Christmas has become an overstimulated tradition for much of the Western world, but I’m not one of the ones 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 born to a virgin named Mary and to her husband Joseph. That baby 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, proven by history. And for nearly 2,000 years the world at large has celebrated the birth of this baby at Christmas.
The man, Jesus, changed the course of the history of our world. And because of His claims, at some point in your life, you will be forced to wrestle with the truth about Jesus. And while the grown-up Jesus is hard for some people to grasp, this season reminds me that God is approachable. As an infant in a manger, He welcomes those who seek Him.
Jesus is like the gifts you get at Christmas, you can reject them with logic, or you can welcome them with faith. Jesus and the true spirit of the Christmas are more than a tradition, they’re a picture of humility and generosity unsurpassed by anything in the history of our world.
God With Us
I have come to learn that Jesus was in fact, Immanuel, God with us. He wasn’t a rule-bearing dictator who demanded 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.
The manger wasn’t convenient. Neither is following Jesus. When we’re willing to see beyond the nature of our pride and self-centeredness, we’ll understand that Christmas isn’t about convenience and tradition. It simply reminds us that we are part of a much bigger story. And just as Christ was poured out for us, we find Him when we are willing to pour ourselves out for others. That is why we give.
For that year when I won’t be 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.