Each year Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. From my book – Wake Up! Wake Up! The Testimoy of a Layman
—–Beginning of Excerpt
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12
An E-mail Received
One year, not long ago, just prior to Christmas, I received an e-mail. This e-mail was sent to several friends, and it appeared the recipients were men. But it had an impact on me. The e-mail follows:
Gentlemen and your Families:
Merry Christmas. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift. Do you remember the gift you received last year? I know I can’t, but I’m still trying. But then the Christmas story is about salvation. Are we each right with the Lord? We are all justified by his grace. Let us remember this day, Christmas Day, and all days where our heart should be. Let him be the center of your life, and his gift to you will never be forgotten. A good read: Titus 3:4-8.
Make it a most memorable Christmas. Happy New Year too.
Your friend in Christ
The language that struck me was, “Do you remember the gift you received last year?” I thought about neckties, handkerchiefs, a golf shirt, golf balls, and there were family photos, albums of the grandchildren, and many other useful and pleasing items for which I was thankful. But was that really the question? But then it continued: “I know I can’t, but I’m still trying.” That was insightful, for what was I forgetting? I must be forgetting something. But then it hit me. The electronic transmission reminded me—why Christmas? And the why starts the day, Christmas. Not hidden, obvious, but then again, not so obvious. How often we forget the true gift of Christmas.
A Special Someone
Whatever our religion, whatever we believe, whatever our faith, everyone knows that someone named Jesus is revered this day called Christmas (by many). It was around the time of his birth. Happy Birthday, Jesus! Jesus makes the gifts possible. Some know his gift. Some do not. Some don’t care. But all are aware. Fewer than two hundred miles from birth ’til death (thirty to thirty-one years) were traveled by Jesus, and look at his reach: the entire world. He touched us all, some more directly and others made aware, some in awe, others despair, some in love, others in hate; but whatever his fate, he made his mark, and the whole world remembers in its own way. Who else, may I ask, is so remembered? There just must be a reason for all of this. For “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the water covers the sea” (Isaiah 11:9b).
On Christmas morning, wives get special gifts from husbands, husbands from wives, girlfriends from boyfriends, boyfriends from girlfriends, children, good and bad, are given toys and gadgets and clothes and games and, and, and. Relatives exchange gifts. Friends exchange gifts. And so on. Everyone is so giving, giving to others and with heartfelt kindness and joy. Gifts are given out of love. Yes, out of love. For he so loved the world. Wow, good stuff. It is a remembrance of the gift we have all been offered, all been given.
Think about the music of the season, for what day of the year are there as many songs written? Is it Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Christmas? The winner is…Christmas! “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “The First Noel” and “Silent Night.” There are hundreds of songs, and various musicians and vocalists record many of the same songs.
Is this a day to rejoice, or what? For some it is a day, in fact a season leading to the day, to profit. Yes, and the greater the profit, the greater the rejoicing. Even nonbelievers may rejoice if they make goods and provide services others purchase for this day. For some businesses, retail especially, it is this time of year that they make whatever money and profits, that they plan, expect, or hope for the entire year.
But it is the special times, the memories, that all will remember. A holiday enjoyed, a dinner with family, direct and/or extended, a church service, and a delighted face of one receiving an unexpected gift or sentiment, a failed or troubled trip to visit family, friends, or loved ones celebrating together; these all provide memories. Yes, we all prefer to share this day in some way with someone. Even if it is the person with whom we may share the profits. Getting together and rejoicing is a byword of the day that is Christmas.
Service to Others
I remember a wonderful family. They did not believe in Jesus, and they claimed they did not believe in Christmas; and they did not celebrate. In fact, they worked on Christmas—the entire family, including the children from the time they were old enough—in service to others as preparers and/or servers at a family dinner. Even though they did not celebrate and claimed they did not believe, they knew the reason for Christmas. They understood that this day meant so much to so many. Was their service a service to the Lord? We will never know, but they served willingly and enthusiastically.
There are those who celebrate Christmas even though they do not believe. Many may claim they do it for the children. It is a holiday, a nation’s holiday, many a nation’s holiday, a world holiday, a work holiday; why not celebrate? But the focus of this day is seldom forgotten, and even for those who may not believe, at some point they may ask or question the day. Is Jesus at work every Christmas reminding the world? I say yes.
The Worst of Times
Christmas may not always be the best of times for some. My first wife died just after Christmas 1989. All through the holidays she was dying, and a vigil was held at our home for those to visit, meet, pay their respects, and see her or speak with her for the last time. She was unable to speak, but there was communication. It was possible to elicit a smile or a nod. She was loved, and her health issue was tragic; but it was her time.
Life is not all good news; there is bad news too. I may have provided a joyous picture of Christmas (and that is the image I prefer), but depression and remorse can befall many. It is dealing with the trauma, life’s dilemmas and frustrations, but remembering the reason for the season and what it can provide for all through reflection. I am not saying it is easy or suggesting that when down or suddenly alone or when you question God, an unhappy outcome, you simply splash cold water on your face, have a stiff upper lip, or get over it because life goes on, for there is a time for suffering, for remorse. It took me time, I know, and there are still moments, especially at holiday time, when I feel some sadness, especially for the short life of a vital, beautiful, talented, forty-four-year-old woman and mother of my children. I will admit too that at the time I was not as strong in my faith as I am today, but you should know my faith was strengthened.
There were so many caring people who came into my life, caring people I hardly knew. A prayer group met twice a week at our home to accommodate my wife, but helpful to so many, with Communion celebrated each week. All were welcome. The Communion was simple: a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and each person faced his neighbor as the elements were passed and said, “Take, eat…” and then, “Take, drink…” repeating the words of a local minister who graced us each week to conduct each prayer session. Tears were shed, embraces were made, love was felt, a presence in the room. Men and woman had lunch with me and shared their feelings, providing comfort and solace. Meals were provided, a list prepared and organized with assignments made to deliver on each night. This continued months after her death.
All I can say and have often reflected on is that without our community and God, it would have been so much more difficult. In time I overcame the grief and did move forward, but my life was different; my goals were different, and my faith was different. I was more thankful and certainly more appreciative of what people can and are willing to do. I wanted to change and understand what it is that causes people to act on what they feel. It may have been my epiphany, but I will tell you this: the next day I did not go and profess my faith; that took more time.
Decorate Your Heart
But no matter how bad it may be, remembering a father sacrificing his only son for us all should provide some insight, some comfort, knowing that we are not alone in our trials or our pain. The man we celebrate at Christmas suffered also and suffers with us, but he also celebrates with us as well. Still, I find difficulty with the season, but more from the excesses and the burdens placed upon many to make something of this time of year than from the true cause of this time, this memory.
Buy a tree, decorate a tree, put up lights, take from storage past years’ decorations, and begin anew to make your place a showcase for Christmas, and know too that when it is over, the reverse must happen. The tree comes down, along with the lights, the decorations are packed and stored for next year, and the piles of trash that are generated need to be removed. There is a lot of work involved. But with or without the work, it is not the appearance of Christmas, the media reminders, keeping up with the neighbors or friends—it is your heart, how you decorate your heart.
Decorate your heart with love. Be kind, gentle, caring, giving (not monetarily necessarily), and temperate. Be a beacon for those who remember the birth that is celebrated. Let the Holy Spirit within you shine. Then the effort will be worthwhile, and whatever is done to decorate or prepare will be sufficient. Back to the e-mail: “The Christmas story is about salvation.”
To Know More
Did Jesus do all of this? Yes! Is this his way of introducing his message? Yes! The greatest gift of all—a kingdom on earth, good versus evil, light versus darkness. Everyone has a choice to do the right thing. You too have the gift.
Let us all, for a moment anyway, enjoy. Give God and Jesus a moment of your time to consider what took place to create this day called Christmas—a day special to so many.
There is much we all need to know and understand. There is the who, what, and why of Christmas. For those who believe and have such faith, why has this day become such a worldwide tradition, and how do we ensure the true message of the day is heard? The message of Christmas, what is it? It is Jesus’s message! Why should we not know more about it?
And the e-mail ended, Let us remember this day, Christmas Day, and all days where our heart should be. Let him be the center of your life, and his gift to you will never be forgotten. And so I was inspired and reminded. And I am writing to you now to remind you too, to inspire you. Get to know and love the Lord.
——End of Excerpt
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