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Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas: Past and Present

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel – which means, “God with us.”  Matthew 1:21-23
As a child Christmas was always a time of happiness for me and my family.  Thinking back, it seems that our “real” life stood still for a while and only those things that were fulfilling and nourishing to our hearts were present.  Perhaps what we saw and felt was Christmas in its purest form.  We saw Christmas through the eyes of a child. 
As children, my siblings and I looked forward to having treats such as fresh fruit, nuts, and candy during the Christmas season. Only our mother could make chicken and dressing, homemade yeast rolls, fresh grated coconut pies, chocolate pies, and yes, even fruit cake to perfection!  These delicacies were special to my family because we seldom had them during the remainder of the year. To this day, I love walnuts because as strange as it may sound, they are a comfort food for me. They take me back to childhood celebrations at Christmas time.  Now, I am very pleased to find that the walnuts I eat most every day are actually good for me!
Every Christmas, our dad purchased regular firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles, and sparklers. After eating our meal and opening gifts, my brothers and I would build a huge bonfire outside and begin our fireworks show.  Not nearly as expensive as fireworks tend to be today, we had more than enough to last an hour or two.  More than once, I remember the pain associated with a lit firecracker going off in my hand.  My brothers also experienced this same pain, but we never let it stop us from continuing.  For some reason we were always competing with our neighbors and felt a sense of satisfaction if their fireworks ran out before ours.
Looking back on Christmas seasons as a child, I can guarantee that there was no rushing to buy that special gift for a family member.  Life was so simple then and the older I get, the more I find comfort in the memories of those times.  On one occasion, our mother sadly told us there was no money for Christmas gifts that year. But, because of what I call a “divine miracle”, a few days later mother found a $20.00 bill stuffed inside the pocket of one of my daddy’s coats that he had not worn in a long time. I remember the discovery as vividly as if it were yesterday and shall never forget the look on my mother’s face!  There was no hiding the fact of her thankfulness to God that her precious little ones would have a gift for Christmas. Today, from my own heart as a mother, I can easily put myself in my mother’s situation and feel the joy, relief, and thankfulness she had for this Christmas miracle.
Each year at Christmas time, our church would hold a special program on the Sunday night closest to Christmas Day. The program would consist of Christmas carols and other reminders of the true meaning of our celebration.  After the program, there was much excitement in the air because we children knew that Santa himself would walk through the door any moment shouting, “Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas!”  In his red Santa suit and with a large sack of goodies slung over his back, one by one each child would go forward to receive a special gift--usually fruit, nuts, and candy. For as long as I can remember, Santa never did let us down! How loved and special we felt that he came to church to bring us gifts! 
The activities surrounding Christmas that I have related in the preceding paragraphs are very special to me.  It was a simple life full of happiness and joy.  As my siblings and I grew older and left home many things changed for us, but the tradition of our family gathering on Christmas Eve at my parent’s house, even into young adulthood with our little children in tow, did not change.  Although my parents have been deceased for many years, these precious memories will always live inside of me and I shall forever be grateful for the God-given peacefulness in our home at Christmas time.
Today, I often experience the rush of the Christmas season. On occasion, I tend to become overwhelmed with it if I do not keep things in the right perspective and remember what the season is all about in the first place.   In so many ways, I wish that our children and grandchildren could experience what my siblings and I did—merely the simplicity of it all.  There was no pressure on my parents to buy the latest and greatest items for their children. They were providing what they could. We did not expect more than that, nor did we ever complain.  Putting it plainly, we were satisfied and grateful for what we received.  Simple things like fruit, nuts, and candy brought us joy.  We experienced love and togetherness as a family and that was enough.    
Over the years, my husband and I have patterned our Christmas traditions very similar to what we knew as children.  We gather at our home on Christmas Eve with our children and grandchildren, just as we did when we were children. We share a meal and exchange gifts.  We sometimes have my mother’s homemade yeast rolls and orange roll cake.  We drink Ray’s mother’s special hot chocolate—a recipe that he finally duplicated through experimenting until the taste was just right.  Because we live in the city, our elaborate fireworks show is not allowed, which is a shame because our children and grandchildren would love that part of the evening!
Ray and I are very thankful that our family members look forward to spending time together during the Christmas season and that they are establishing their own holiday traditions for their children. As all of us grow older, we know that our time together will not always be as consistent as in earlier years.  Already, we have one granddaughter and her husband who are living in Asia and have not been home for the past two Christmas seasons. We miss them so much. However, our wonderful memories of this precious granddaughter now and when she was a child remind us that our family members will always be in our hearts, whether they are present in our home or not. 
Now that I have indulged the readers of this blog with the reliving of my past and present experiences at Christmas time, I must say that there is one aspect of the Christmas season that is always in my mind and on my heart, no matter where I am or what I am doing.  It is the greatest story ever told! Christmas is a time for giving because God gave us the greatest gift He had—His Son Jesus. It began with the birth of a baby whose coming was foretold by Old Testament prophets long before He came to earth. This baby, born in a stable over two thousand years ago was not just any baby, but God Himself who came to earth in human form to redeem mankind. Christmas is remembering the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Believing on Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior is the greatest and most important gift that I have received or ever will receive.  It was with a childlike faith and a trust in Jesus that I accepted this gift. Whatever you do, don’t miss your gift for it has eternal implications for you!  It is free and available to all.   Remember, a childlike faith and a trust in Jesus is all it takes for the Father to receive us.
So….what does Christmas mean to you? Do you become overwhelmed with the commercialism of Christmas? Is the Christmas season a depressing time of the year for you? Is it a time to give and receive gifts, eat lots of wonderful food, attend parties and socialize with friends?  Does Christmas have any significant spiritual meaning to you?  Is it a time to focus on helping others  who are less fortunate than yourself? Do you take the time to focus on the true meaning of why we celebrate the season?
Please take some time to think about the preceding questions.  Search your heart and see if you have the right focus this Christmas.  Take time to be still before God and think about the gift He gave you through His Son, Jesus.   And if you have not already done so, accept this free gift.  You will never see Christmas in the same light again.  That I can promise you! 
Prayer:  Dear God, thank you for Jesus.  He is the reason that we celebrate the season.  In a time where political correctness tries to stifle our ability to celebrate Your gift to us , please help us never to waiver in proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Help us to always do this for Your glory, and Yours alone.  Bless each person reading this article and give them reason for hope, happiness, and fulfillment this Christmas season through your Son, Jesus Christ.  I pray this in His name, the One who died to bring sight to the blind, heal the brokenhearted, and give peace and joy to all who believe on His name Amen.

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