It’s like a snapshot, etched ever so clearly in my mind; Christmas morning as a child. The weather always seemed to be cold and gray, with a hint of the possibility of snow. The world felt like it was waiting.
My family had two traditions, at least early on. The first was that we never started decorating until Christmas Eve. I don’t know why. It could be that my dad never got around to getting a tree until the last minute. When I was small I would be packed off to bed with the house looking just as it did every day. As soon as I was out of the picture, my dad would head out to get a tree. You can get some great bargains on Christmas trees after 9:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Sometimes the trees were free, having been abandoned by the tree salesmen who had posted a “Free Tree” sign and then had headed home to be with their families.
Dad would go out, find the biggest tree that he could find, cut the top off of it for the living room, and save the piles of extra branches for decoration. Dad would come home, set up the tree, and start decorating. Of course Mom was busy wrapping presents.
The second tradition that we had was in how we decorated the tree. I was never sure where this tradition came from, but I believe that it started with my mom’s family during the Great Depression, when times were really rough. They used to use unsterile cotton on the tree as snow. Every branch was covered with snow. Each piece was torn off of a blue roll of Red Cross unsterile cotton. It couldn’t be too thick or it wouldn’t stay on the needles of the Balsam, or too thin as it wouldn’t look like snow.
Now this probably wasn’t a big deal when times were tight and trees were small. Charlie Brown Christmas trees are not hard to decorate. However, as times the tree got much bigger, lights were added, glass balls were included, and tinsel draped the final masterpiece. The problem was that as the trees got bigger so did the amount of time that it took to complete the project.
I didn’t realize how much work it was until I, as the oldest child, was granted the privilege of helping Dad do the tree (then done during the day). Unfortunately, Dad seemed to find things that he had to do on Christmas Eve so I ended up having full responsibility for doing the tree on Christmas Eve Day. It took forever and quickly turned from a joy to a chore. Yet I always insisted that it be done. Tradition!!!
But, as a child, I had no understanding of all that went into making this miracle happen. All I knew was that on Christmas Eve Day life was as it was, but with a heightened sense of expectation; then darkness came and with it sleep, and then it was Christmas morning. Before we children could go into the living room, where the tree and all the presents were, Dad would slip in and turn on the lights on the tree. Magic.
What is etched on the mind of this little boy is the experience of going into a semi-dark normal living room (it was usually just dawn) and seeing that everything that was familiar about that room had changed. Now it was now transformed, filled with glory. The glow of colored lights reflected off bright colored glass decorations, each nestled in the glistening white snow and it all sparkling with tinsel. Amazing gifts surrounded the tree calling our names. And we children would do what children do all around the world on Christmas morning. We would rush down, past this labor of love, and open our presents, shouting with glee. Dad would do what all dads do who have been up all night preparing for Christmas day. He would fall asleep on the couch.
Because that first Christmas was a world and eternity transformative event my Christmas was a minor reflection of that event. The ordinary had become extraordinary. On that morning the cold fields, dark skies, and stone buildings of Bethlehem were forever changed. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords had been born there. Past normal was not present normal. A “normal” day was no longer “normal.” It was amazing. The little town had seen angels, shepherds, and the fulfillment of generations of prophecy. The gift of God had come to all of humankind. That day was the pivotal point of history, the balancing point between BC and AD, before and after the birth of Jesus . On that day, “In our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world (CS Lewis, The Last Battle, 1956).”
In that stable, surrounded by all those who sought him, was the gift of God to all mankind. The world was no longer filled with hopelessness, despair, and empty religious acts. It was filled with the fruit of love that had been part of the Father’s plan for eternity. That stable was occupied by One who had come to give his life so that God and man could be forever reconciled; one who was, in every way, like us, but without sin. On that day “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952).” I know that I, like many of you, are eternally grateful.
I pray that you have a glorious Christmas and a wonderful New Year!