My wife frantically mentioned to me in a moment of anxiety that “Christmas is a week away and we don’t have the tree up, the Christmas letter is not written and the manger is not outside…” Yes, the Webster’s are running late this year. Knowing that some stores started their Christmas season in late September we really have no excuse. The reminders have been out for months. Of course, it was a major remodeling of the master bathroom that set us back, but such rationale fails to appease when our daughters are coming home to their traditional winter wonderland.
When I think of Christmas lights, I should go back to my childhood of putting strands of large colored outdoor bulbs outside with Dad. My fingers would hurt trying to pin them to our evergreens except for the numb fingers I’d have after the first 10 minutes. We didn’t put lights up at Thanksgiving, we waited for the cold! Instead, I go back to a Greg being on a ladder at my garage in Crown Point, Indiana. Still following tradition, my fingers were cold but this memory is focused on my first downsizing. I vividly recall putting lights up on a house I feared I was going to lose. On December 11th that year I was let go in an extraordinarily nasty way. It was hard to think of Christmas cheer when driven from a false sense of security I thought I had at work.
As I picture that Christmas, I always start at that old aluminum ladder. I can see myself putting up lights over the garage while telling my neighbor of my new plight. I then recall that in the midst of the turmoil I decided that Christmas would be our best ever. We bought a nice tree. I told my wife that we will have no worries about the budget until after Christmas. The people who did me in would not ruin my kid’s Christmas. Only my bad attitude could do that.
I think that was the last Christmas I worried about outdoor lights. Part of me feels guilty that I don’t add a lot of colors outside to the third house we’ve lived in since that first downsizing. I prefer a manger scene. It is simple, like the message in the Bible. That first downsizing was the hardest for me and, taught me valued lessons in life. After getting through the struggles, I knew I would never let myself be so unprepared professionally again. I was also reminded that Christmas is a time for family, friends and the Incarnation. Any other focus can’t get in the way.
Advent is a time of waiting. It is a special time where we try to let the noise of our lives settle down so that we can listen to the message of the Gospel. I didn’t understand that growing up. Perhaps, this was because as a child I was an expert in anticipation. Christmas was a wonderful time when grandparents came from New Jersey. My brother and I knew when we saw a bottle of prune juice show up in the refrigerator that grandma was coming. How exciting! It was tough time waiting for the day they were scheduled to arrive. It was a 12 to 18 hour drive for them. For me, it was a day of looking at the clock. One particular year we had a big snow the day my grandparents were scheduled to come. Little Greg dutifully shoveled the driveway leaving two large mounds of snow at the entrance with flags on top so my grandparents wouldn’t miss coming in. Memories of my grandparents visit brings great warmth to me this time year while also bringing a bit of sadness at all the time that has passed by since being with them.
The anticipation we see from children at this time of year is the same anticipation we should have as adults for the coming of Christ into our world. Unfortunately, we let our struggles, deadlines, to-do lists, and hectic schedules take over. A wall of cynicism builds up blocking out the anticipation we should have. People have come to hate this time of year for all the wrong reasons.
I guess that’s why so many people watch Hallmark movies at Christmas. Deep down inside we all long for the simplicity we see on TV. We see Christmas as a fairytale because for the past year we’ve built up layers of indifference that many of us feel we need to get by. Christmas comes each year to remind us to overcome this indifference. Christ has come to show us a new way. It is not a way we are unfamiliar with, but a way we tend to forget. We get so busy in life we forget to live it.
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year for it truly teaches us what Jesus meant by coming to him “like a child.” Young children have the right perspective. They see the world as a joy to explore. They are not bothered by the self-imposed hang-ups we give ourselves. No, they run to the joy. Each Christmas I need to remember to look at a Christmas tree the way my middle daughter did as a young girl. One year I caught her looking at the tree in wonder. As the lights sparkled off her eyes my heart melted. In her wonderment, I saw the meaning of Christmas.
Of course, like everyone else over the next 300 days or so, that look was forgotten. My cynicism built back up and my heart gets harden once again. Why do we celebrate Christmas each year? So we can again experience the wonderment we saw as children. So we can lie down beneath the tree and look up at the lights. We can go back again to a time where the wonderment of Christmas held us captive. We can open ourselves to the joy, the love and cheer of the holidays. In returning to this right frame of mind brings us to again see the awe of the babe in the manger. We too can follow that star.
I guess I was wrong. Christmas didn’t come late this year. No, it is right on time. May the joy and wonderment of the manger be alive in our hearts.