Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Wonder

I have always loved Christmas. Some of my earliest memories as a child (3 or 4 years old) were of the Christmas tree and its ornaments and colored lights. Being a baby boomer, I remember those big ole painted light bulbs on the tree:

I remember the shiny Christmas ornaments that after a few uses had the paint chip off. Like these:

I remember the tree sprayed with this white stuff that looked like snow and decorated with tinsel. I found a picture on the Internet that remeinded me of those Christmas mornings with tree and gifts and stockings:

I can remember being taken downtown as a child to Birmingham where I was born. I again was perhaps 4 years old since my family moved to Norfolk, Virginia when I was 5. I can remember seeing the decorations strung over the streets and the light posts had big bells or bows as decorations.

It certainly made an impression upon me. Everything about Christmas impressed my young imagination with a delight of color and song and decoration and beauty. It was all about wonder and still is.

My family was Methodist but not overly religious. We didn’t even have a manger when I was growing up. But I have a very fond memory of every Christmas Eve my mother would read to me, and then also to my brother and sister when they came along, two stories. The first was The Night Before Christmas. The second was the account of the birth of Jesus according to the Gospel of Luke. I of course loved The Night Before Christmas and its pictures of Santa and flying Reindeer. I liked the sound of "Now dash away, dash away, dash away all."

But even my childish mind also liked the story about Jesus. It has details to capture our imagination, still, even as adults: the journey to Bethlehem, the fact that there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn, the birth among animals, the angels and shepherds.

In 1965, when I was 10 years old, I saw the premier of a "Charlie Brown Christmas Special." At one point Charlie Brown asks: ""Isn’t there ANYONE who knows what Christmas is all about?!?!" And then Linus recites from Luke 2. It was the story my mother read to me every year! I was so impressed that Linus could recite it from memory that I also memorized the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. (CBS executives wanted to delete that part by Linus when it was first produced but thankfully left it in. Imagine that. Christ is, after all, "the reason for the season")

One last remembrance. As a child, I was also told continuously before Christmas that if I didn’t behave, Santa would bring me a bag of switches (I suppose the Southern equivalent of coal). I’m sure I was more "naughty than nice," children get so wound-up before Christmas, yet Santa always delivered! What a lesson of grace in my childhood.

As I have grown older, I have come to think this is the true message of Christmas: grace comes even when we don’t expect it or especially when we don’t deserve it. Love is that way and Christmas is about God’s love. But like love, we must accept it; like a gift at Christmas we must open it; like the wonder of Christmas, we must stop and see it again as a child. These are some of the deeper reasons I love Christmas.