Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
December 11, 2011
Christmas memories produce laughter, tears and prayers
Every year about this time I hear someone say, “I hate Christmas.” That comment reminds me that Christmas is not a pleasant time for some people. They nurse bitter memories of past Christmases when times were hard or some loved one was missing from the family circle. My heart aches for those who despise Christmas. Harsh memories block them from experiencing the joy that Christmas brings to many of us.
My memories of Christmas are mostly precious. My mother loved Christmas and she made it special for me and my siblings. Even in the lean years Mama found ways to make Christmas a happy time for our family. Christmas dinner was always the finest meal of the year in our home.
Though Santa’s gifts were never expensive Mama always decorated the house with candles and bright colors. Daddy would cut a cedar tree which we trimmed with lights and homemade ornaments. Mama saw to it that we left on the hearth some milk and fruitcake for Santa. He must have enjoyed it because every Christmas morning the cake and milk were gone.
Some features of Christmas have remained the same. The home is beautifully decorated. The family gathers for a good meal. Afterward someone “plays” Santa and gifts are exchanged. Christmas music is likely playing in the background. We enjoy singing “Jingle Bells” but are blessed even more as we sing “Silent Night.” Pictures are made on several cameras as gifts are displayed with smiles and giggles. Wrapping paper is gathered up and stuffed in the trash can. Children play outside while the old folks tell and re-tell boring stories of bygone days.
Each Christmas we were all reminded that Christmas is really Jesus’ birthday. Usually someone read the story of the birth of Jesus from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Children were reminded that Jesus “is the reason for the season” and someone would offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the birth of our Lord. Santa is a nice old fellow but top billing belongs to Jesus. Christmas is not Santa’s birthday.
As our children were growing up we would sometimes help them “act out” the story of the birth of Jesus. We had a lot of laughs as the boys, dressed in bathrobes, walked in like shepherds coming to see the baby Jesus in the manger. Once Jesus was a lighted flashlight wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a shoebox. We had no daughter to play the part of Mary but the boys enjoyed playing the parts of Joseph, the shepherds, angels and wise men. One Christmas one of the “wise men” proudly announced to our family, “We have come bringing precious gifts: gold, circumstance and mud!”
Though many traditions remain intact, in other ways Christmas is a dynamic experience that is always changing. The “shepherds” and “wise men” grow up and have families of their own. They live in different places and it is not always possible to “come home” for Christmas. Indeed “home” becomes the place where they live and each family begins to establish its own set of traditions. Roles change and grandparents must learn to adapt to the changes and surrender their authority to the younger generation.
As Mom and I approach our eightieth year Christmas is different. “The old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be.” Once we gathered thirty or more family members around our tables for a Christmas feast. But no more. Things change. People change. Life moves on. This Christmas some of our family will not show up at all; they will call and wish us a Merry Christmas. Some gifts may be exchanged by mail.
But precious memories will still be precious. Some bring tears though most bring laughter. We will still give thanks for each other and we will continue to thank God for the ties that bind us together as a family. We will still love each other and want the best for each family member, especially for those who are struggling to “find themselves.”
Christmas will still be the birthday of Jesus and we will joyfully celebrate the love that caused God to send his only Son to be born in a cow’s stall. We will still pause on that wondrous day and praise God for the One who came down at Christmas to “save his people from their sins.”
Hopefully our whole family, though thankful for Santa and his gifts, will make room in our hearts for the Christ and truly celebrate Christmas by saying with our lives and our lips, Happy Birthday Jesus! + + +