Consistent Christmas

Nostalgia. One of my favorite feelings. Sometimes pleasant, sometimes hard, but always magical. Always grateful. Always full of memories that move rhythmically to the beating of my heart. 

This Christmas season brought nostalgia along for the sleigh ride of thanksgiving. Memories as sharp as day, coming alive in the twinkling of the night. Christmas carols serenading the road of reminiscing, family laughter fueling the present moment. Joy nesting in the bellies of our souls, brought alive again by the power of advent. Anxious anticipation of the arrival of something majestic, something angelic, something transformative, something pure. The hype and busyness add to the build-up, yet the innocence of a child reminds us to be still. Such a wonder, such a mystery, yet such a familiar call back home. 

All of this excitement of something greater than ourselves often humbles us to retreat with those we cherish and extend beyond ourselves. It moves us to sit with those we grew up with, and speak with those we may not associate with. Something larger, something stronger, something intricately woven throughout this place we call earth seems to continue its process of knitting. For a moment, we set aside our Christmas list and surrender ourselves in awe. For a breath, we glance up at the star of royal beauty for an answering light beyond our understanding. 

Each Christmas is different in its own way. One year older, one year wiser, one year of life’s challenges requiring new adaptation. It’s hard to accept change sometimes, especially during the holidays. It’s hard to let go of old traditions and welcome the new. It’s difficult to surpass any old winter wounds to focus on the redemptive warmth. 

But Christmas is also consistent. Traditions hold a spot in our plans as our calendars fill up with festivities. Regardless of how you get there, Christmas always comes to you. Every year on December 25th, we can count on the consistency of Christmas. The presents may not pile up in the same way. You may have new faces around your holiday feast. Your work schedule may not allow for as much down time as you’d like. But we can all count on this day to catch us when we need it. We can look forward to this day just like any other. We can celebrate the gentle spirit that Christmas brings, and even allow ourselves flow with it. We can always count on the coming of Christ. 

The older I get, the more I crave the feeling of togetherness. Quality time, to me, is one of greatest gifts of all. I’ve always been aware of just how precious our time here is, and it’s always been troubling to me that I can’t spend as much time with everyone I care about as much as I’d like. Christmas allows for a time of togetherness. Maybe my hunger for quality time stems from a combination of upbringing and personality, growing up surrounded by cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles at every holiday gathering. Maybe it’s the nostalgic feeling tied to family time, or contagious enthusiasm from true friends. Or maybe part of me remembers how lonely it felt to shut others out during a cold snap of depression. A retreat down memory lane to the days of worry-free childhood put those wonder blues to bed. Perhaps it’s a little bit of all of these things that feed my need for togetherness. All of which have one common source: a little baby in a manger. 

I bet the crowd at Jesus’ birth felt the same way we do on Christmas. Quieted by something so beautiful, so transforming, so radically renewing. A feeling so calming, so comforting, so oddly reassuring. A place so grounded, so down-to-earth, so transparently vulnerable. A safe space; a worry-free space; a place to belong. Surrounded by people who they traveled the deserts with, and also people who they had never seen before. All together, all connected, all mesmerized by  by a force that drew them to that very place. Something majestic, something angelic, something transformative, something pure. Something foreign, yet something familiar; something nostalgic, yet something new. 

A presence so remarkable, a moment so indescribable. An invitation so welcoming, a promise so true. 

Love incarnate, love divine. 

A love so real that continues to shine. 

For there on that historic night, sparked a truth that feels just right. 

Peace for the moment, hope for the night. 

A love that binds us forever tight.

“Christmas is [more than] a Feeling”

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The day after Christmas is always hard.

Hard to put an end to all the hype and happiness; hard to turn off the Christmas music for a whole other year; hard to hug distant relative goodbye; hard to wrap up all the holiday decor; hard to let go of the intimate gatherings and silence the belly-aching laughter. But as difficult as the bookend of Christmas is, it’s even harder to imagine a life without it.

I cannot fathom what it would be like any other way … growing up without family to visit, presents to open, a warm house to come home to, delicious dishes to devour, or a church to attend. Growing up, this was all I knew. I didn’t once take any of it for granted, but the older I now become, the more my eyes are opened to the beauty of nostalgia. The quicker the time passes, the more I wish it would just stay put. Though Christmas, even with its traditions, changes each year, there is a feeling that remains remarkably present. There is an emotion that returns each time I hear the familiar tunes playing in my head, or gaze into the lively flame in my hands at the candlelight worship service. There is one constant, one dependency, one reliable source of love each Christmas. The love of Christ in celebration of His birth, is a love that never fades.

I was the kid who believed in Santa Claus until the 6th grade. Up until that time, I had no reason to question; I had no reason to doubt. I simply knew how to trust. With this belief in a jolly old man I had never seen, I let myself become lured in by the magic of Christmas. I followed all the rules, behaved myself (especially around December), always left out the good cookies, and wrote old St. Nick letters and curious dialogue. My parents were awesome at playing the role of the mysterious gift-giver, and I was convinced that the tales were true.

Even with friends who did not believe, I didn’t want to follow suit. Even if Santa wasn’t real, I didn’t want to disbelieve in it all. To me, this idea robbed the joy of Christmas. I would rather believe in something that makes me hopeful, and participate in a tradition that makes me happy, rather than try and find reasons to prove all of it rubbish.

I often faced embarrassment for my gullibility, but I continued to hold my ground—until one Christmas eve I came across Santa’s handwriting on a notepad in my dad’s office. That night I heard nails being hammered into trees outside our house—definitely not reindeer hoofs—making it difficult to sleep.

The next morning my brother and I were prompted to follow a trail of yarn, leading us to the garage in the backyard, each piece of string wrapped around a nail hammered into a redbud tree. The minute I saw the string, I knew. Keeping quiet for my little brother, I held my heartbreak inside. That Christmas, I experienced the magic drift away. Yet I didn’t try and catch it. I let it go, watching it spin away into the wind, slouching in my own disappointment.

Since that Christmas morning, I have experienced something even greater than magic, which rises with each winter season. I have experienced the wondrous light of the Lord, which, unlike Santa’s sleigh, does not have to come and go. God’s light is present year round, but shines brighter on each Christmas morn. And with every Christmas eve I come to meet, I hear in my head the nails being plowed into the tree … though this time it’s the cross-shaped tree which held my Savior until his death for me.

Though it took a while, I can now replace my trust in something indescribable. I can deeply believe in something unshakable. I can choose to live for something I may never fully understand. But I can rest my head in a peaceful and thankful slumber, with a faithful assurance that the Giver of Joy does see me when I’m sleeping and knows when I’m awake. My new giver of joy loves me regardless of my gift-wrapping, decorating, or Christmas cooking. His love is what produces the feeling of Christmas. The familiar feeling that sprouts from being surrounded by love, no matter what happened during the calendar year. His love is what I believe in. His grace is always wrapped neatly under my tree. It is, with each passing season, the greatest gift there is.

 

” In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” ~1 John 4:9