Like most of you who read this blog post, I have to say that I love the Christmas season (minus the traffic jams, getting many boxes of Christmas decorations out of storage, and shopping pressures). It is a time of year where celebrations, parties, and good will are upon most of us. Prior to moving to North Carolina, Christmas greetings were relegated to church, home, and with friends at work who I knew would be receptive to Christmas greetings. I remember after I recently moved to North Carolina, I was refreshed by public Christmas greetings everywhere I turned including, DMV offices, stores, and in the courthouses that I frequented when working with the USMS. It was evident that North Carolinians in the Triad region were more comfortable with publicly sharing their affirmation of Christmas and I was/am glad to experience this public sense of joy for the season.
In my past Christmas experiences, I am grateful for all of the fun had as I was growing up. Mom and Dad were always so generous in giving us kids memorable presents that would take up our time playing with on Christmas days. The kids (Scott, Johnny, Jimmy, and me) always looked forward to Dad’s Christmas spread that was always laden with goodies of every sort. We would eat from the spread all day. The Christmas buffet style meal that dad prepared for us has become a tradition for my family as well. Other traditions that have carried on into the next generation are attending or singing in Christmas musicals, riding around and looking at Christmas lights, and watching old Christmas movies. Good times! I think that these Christmas traditions are familiar to many of you. Unfortunately, my mother became mentally ill and the home around Christmas could be filled with dysfunction at points. However, even through this struggle at home, Christmas remained a great season to celebrate.
It is funny how time changes things and how one’s perspective on Christmas changes as the years progress! Instead of looking forward to my haul of presents, it is much more enjoyable for me now to give presents than to receive them (Acts 20:35). This impulse to give is in accord with the kindness of God who looks to give good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:11). So, I relish when it is time to open gifts to see the reactions of Andrea and the kids (Ryan and Rachel)! In addition to enjoying opening gifts, now that I am older and loved ones have departed from my family, I think with fondness about those loved ones who are no longer with me. Yes, there is sadness but there is also joy in remembering them during the season. So, even though Christmas can be a time where we grieve the fact that some of our loved ones have departed, not only can we remember the good times that we had with them but we also have the hope that we will see them again if they were/are in relationship with Jesus Christ!
In addition to traditions and remembering beloved family members that have gone before me, I think that the practice of gift giving is wholly appropriate during this time of year. What better way to celebrate the birth of Jesus the one who gave totally and completely to us? In Christian theology, the concept of the kenosis of Jesus is put forth and is described as a person of the Trinity (Jesus) giving up many of his divine attributes while on earth in order to become “God Incarnate.” Even in this act of taking on human flesh, God humbled himself in order to begin his work of salvation on behalf of humanity (Philippians 2:5-8). So, giving gifts to each other is a great way to symbolize the eternal gift of Jesus through his sacrifice on the cross.
It is also a time when we can think of those who are less fortunate than we are. This is in keeping with the kenosis of Jesus as well. Even as he condescended to our lowly station, so we should also look for opportunities to help others who are in need. Even as Jesus gave and keeps on giving to us, we can also give to others who are in need around us. So if you want to give a birthday/Christmas present to Jesus, just share with someone who is in need as he states in Matthew 25:40 (whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me).
In addition to giving to others during the Christmas season (and at other times too), I am so appreciative for his guidance and care for me personally! He creates a sustainable world, creates my very soul and body so that I can exist, and then shows me how I can truly optimize my life by coming into relationship with him. Not only did Jesus do this, but then he also greatly suffered on my behalf. In doing so, not only has he given me an example of how I should live but he also allows me to be a part of his family both now and eternally. Through his sacrifice and through his resurrection, I can find forgiveness and I can know how to forgive others. So even as he has done all of this for me, how can I not worship him in song services during this season and how can I not pour out of the material benefits that he has lavished upon me for the good of others?
Even as the special day approaches and amid all of the hustle and bustle of this most blessed of holidays, may we take time to be thankful for the little baby in Bethlehem who even being very God, lowered himself to our humble estate. In this age of media hype and celebrity worship, it is so ironic to think that the God who has all power humbled himself so completely for us. May we, in turn, celebrate his birth by loving those around us, remembering loved ones who have gone before us, and giving liberally to family members as well as to those in need. I had intended on typing about the prophetic passages of Jesus in the Old Testament but oh well! Maybe I will try again on another blog post? Merry Christmas from Andrea and me to your household!