Somehow, the pull is strong each year to rummage through boxes, silver paper, and tinsel trivialities, looking for Bethlehem. For the first 18 years of my life, all I knew of Christmas was the party in the middle of winter. It seemed a good idea; a family reunion in our beautiful English home.
Even now, I can smell the chestnuts roasting on a blazing fire in the fireplace and hear the soothing voice of Bing Crosby crooning my father’s favorite: “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” I see the games we played and remember the faces of loving family and friends and the guests who would come and go, bringing fruitcake and nuts, and adding to the music each night around my father’s electric organ.
That was as near as our family got to tipping a hat in God’s direction – a wonderful celebration, but not Christmas. How many lovely family parties, like ours, will be held in Christendom this year, I wonder. How many times will I need to remind myself, amid the trappings of tree decorating and gift buying, of my conversion?
It was in college that I discovered what Christmas was really about how God became a baby – for me! How He came to earth at Christmas because He knew I needed eternal life. I reeled in horror at the realization of how our family’s benign neglect must have offended Jesus! We had been throwing a big bash for Him for years, but never invited Him along. I knelt, then lay flat, face down in my little college bedroom crying: “Jesus, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Help me make good those 18 years!”
At Christmas break I traveled by train back to home to Liverpool. This was to be my very first real Christmas. What would I do that I had never done? I didn’t know, so I went through a series of scenarios, practicing my lines: “Mother, let’s ask Jesus to His party this year.” No, that would be too much. “Father, let’s sing carols instead of ‘Rudolph.’” No, they wouldn’t want to do that.
I scanned the newspaper for a local church with a Christmas Eve midnight service. The one I found was miles away and I knew I would need to walk home. Public transport would be halted for the holiday by that hour. It didn’t matter. I decided I was going!
I slipped away Christmas Eve from happy notes, “…sleigh bells jingling…” sung lustily by our friends around the organ to find the little chapel crammed with people. Candle lit faces reflected eyes full of wonder, love, and praise. Jesus was here! We prayed and smiled knowingly at one another, total strangers bound by belief that brought us together to worship the Christ child. It was a bit of Heaven right here on earth.
The walk home took two hours down deserted streets, past homes lit with holiday glow, the waft of toasting chestnuts and the chiming laughter of family togetherness, like the scene awaiting for me at my parents’ home.
On the doorstep, I could hear the party inside revving up. I slipped into the pack as unobtrusively as I could, but my mother’s friend saw me.
“Why, here she is,” she said louder than I’d wished. “We didn’t know where you were!”
“She’s been to church,” my sister interjected.
“How do you know?” asked her friend.
My sister smiled softly, “Look at her face.”
Eyes turned to me. There was a sudden quietness. I went pink. What were they looking at? My cheeks were surely stinging from the cold, but there seemed to be something more catching this bunch’s attention.
Apparently they saw Him. I was content. Partying without praising was for the birds. They knew I was changed. Another day, I’d explain why. Now it was time to slip up to Mom, Dad, and my beloved sister, give them a kiss and wish them from the bottom of my heart a Christmas without winter.
May you keep focused on the reason for the season as you enter into the upcoming holiday season.