For a moment, I want you to join me in remembering Christmases from your younger years: setting out the plate of cookies for Santa’s snack; gazing at the wrapped packages and wondering what was inside; the eager anticipation and excitement making it hard to go to sleep so that Santa could come; listening in the dark to hear any inkling of reindeer hooves on the roof; waking with a jolt to the realization that Christmas Day had come; and racing out to see what Santa might have left under the tree. There was that initial rush of excitement at the new toys and gifts and the prolonged excitement of taking turns unwrapping gifts. Some years, the exact thing we had wished and asked for was under the tree. Other years, there was disappointment that what we wanted did not appear. Always, there was waaay too much food to eat. In my home, there was also the dreaded picking up of all the paper, bows and ribbons – done carefully so that it could be reused. Toward the end of the day, there was the inevitable time when the excitement would wear off. Our spirits would sink as tiredness and the release of emotional energy took its toll. We would become sad that the day was over, the excitement ended, for another year. It would soon be time to return to our usual routines.
As I grew older, other memories began to be stronger: going to look at Christmas lights; sharing time and meals with family and friends; Christmas caroling at the home of church members or a care facility; taking baskets of food and gifts to the homes of families in need; sneaking special gifts under the trees of special friends; being part of a Live Nativity; gathering with family and beloved friends for Christmas Eve worship (with candles, of course!); reading the Christmas story around the table on Christmas Day; and sitting under the stars filled with amazement at what God had done in the birth of Jesus.
These days, I find myself moving through Christmas in awe of God’s love, born in Jesus Christ. Being with my family is still a great joy. How wonderful it is to celebrate with our children, their spouses, and our granddaughters. Yet, singing, praying, and worshipping with my church family is still essential to express my awe, joy, and love. I missed that so much last year and am eager to see all of you this year! Increasingly, I am drawn to express my joy and gratitude to God for His great gift of love to me – and the world. At the close of Christmas Day, I am often exhausted. But it is a tiredness filled with wonder, joy, love, and gratitude. I gaze at the heavens and struggle to comprehend what God has done while I pour out my soul in thanksgiving.
I write this two weeks before Christmas. But you’re reading just before or after the presents have all been unwrapped. I am wondering what the end of your Christmas Day will be like. I know, already, that mine will be one of great joy. I will have been blessed to worship with my immediate and my church family. I will be excited by your loving generosity, even as we struggle out of a pandemic. Not just financial generosity, many of you will have served others in our community and invited them to join us in worship. Instead of the usual Christmas rush, you will have shared the real Good News of Christmas with the world in your words and actions. I will be humbled and rejoicing at the faithfulness of Bethany – and grateful to be with you.
At the close of Christmas Day 2021, I truly believe that Jesus’ heart will be filled with gladness at the gifts of love we have shared in His name. But our hearts, and the whole world, will be filled with the joy of the greatest gift of God’s love: the new-born Christ child.