As I sorted through my Christmas decorations this year, I noticed my tastes have changed a bit through the years. There’s angelic decor and snowman decor, but for the last few years I’ve been acquiring lamp posts and lanterns. Do you have favorite decorations, ornaments and Christmas traditions that are special to you? Perhaps something made by one of your children or others that make you reminisce about your own childhood? One of my new favorites is a picture of what I consider to be the most beautiful town in the world, Wellsboro, PA. I’m partial to this pretty town because my grandparents lived there and it’s tied to many happy memories. My sister, Betsy, took a picture of Main Street in Wellsboro on an untouched snowy Christmas morning when the streets were bare and quiet. My gift that year was a lovely canvas print. Every year since, I look forward to getting that picture out. It is a beautiful Christmas scene, full of nostalgia. In the midst of this hectic season, I love to sit down with a cup of Christmas Mystery tea and stare into that picture, looking up the street, past the gas lamps and Christmas trees, just remembering.
Another reason I like lamp posts and lanterns is because they remind me of the mythical land of Narnia in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. My mother read this book to us at the table after dinner when we were kids. It was a wonderful thing to imagine climbing into a wardrobe and finding yourself in a mysterious winter wonderland. I’ve come to enjoy things with lamp posts because they evoke good memories from my childhood. However, the older I get and the longer we’ve been in ministry, the more I realize that not everyone has such great memories of the past. Childhoods were not all pleasant. Some have lost loved ones around Christmas. Some are living in a very difficult present which overshadows the holiday. This time of year, for them, is extremely difficult and depressing. Some days it’s been difficult to get into the spirit of Christmas. The weight of empathy is a burden. As a ministry family, we never know how our celebrations might be interrupted by urgent needs. Couple that with everything else one must do to prepare for Christmas—the baking and buying, the running and wrapping, the planning and packing… Sometimes I think, “Wouldn’t it be nice to celebrate a happy, peaceful Christmas without all these difficulties?”
As I’ve looked at another item that I bring out each Christmas, the Lord has chided me. This item is the centerpiece of the season–the nativity scene. My nativity scene has Bible verses etched into the figurines, a great reminder each time we look at it of why we celebrate Christmas. I’ve realized anew that Christ came…because Someone willingly and sacrificially gave. As I’ve reflected on it, I’ve realized there is much more behind this beautiful scene that we set on the mantle or see on a Christmas card. God gave His Son in His glorious form from the halls of heaven to take on the vulnerable form of a newborn baby in the humble setting of a stinky stable. What humility! Jesus was born surrounded by controversy; tongues wagged about Mary’s character. God subjected His Son to that! Everything about His birth was inconvenient. There was probably grumbling about taxation and oppressive government. Travel to Bethlehem was inconvenient, as was the lodging. Later, there was more inconvenience as Mary & Joseph fled to Egypt. A king wanted to kill Jesus. Children were killed in an effort to accomplish that. What an ugly and terrible time! Yes, a needy world was waiting and some welcomed Him, but the world ultimately rejected and betrayed Him. It continues to deny and reject Him. God knew all that, and still He gave!
If you can look past that perfect manger scene, you will see a much more difficult scene—one of excruciating sacrifice, humility, and love. Do you, like me, long for your holiday to be full of warm fuzzy feelings and as stress-free, guilt-free, or as easy on the wallet as possible? Where do we get the idea this makes the most ideal Christmas? I’ve realized that the celebration of Christmas SHOULD involve the sacrifice of time, energies and resources to bless others. That is true giving—the love of God manifested through us to others. Giving is difficult because it costs us something. But in the light of God’s greatest Gift (“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16) we see what Christmas is really about. Amy Carmichael once said “You can always give without loving, but you can never love without giving.” Go the extra mile and sacrificially give of yourself this Christmas, show His love to those around you…without begrudging!