I don’t know why exactly but it seems this holiday season, more than any other, I have been flooded with memories of past holiday celebrations.
As I write this letter, I am rejoicing being able to walk down the stairs from our bedroom, sit in a chair in my studio and write to you.
Reflecting on Seasons Past
Shortly before Thanksgiving, I had a low back disc issue which laid me out flat for almost two weeks. Pain night and day like I’ve never experienced before. I don’t share this to solicit your sympathy (though your continual prayers will be greatly appreciated) but rather to let you know that through this painful experience I had lots of time to think.
I tended not to think too much about big and complex issues because the sheer bulk of these more weighty matters seemed to only add to the pain.
With the holiday season literally at our doorstep, I found myself reflecting on seasons past with oft accompanying laughter that released endorphins to perhaps, in a small way, mask some pain.
“A merry heart does good, like a medicine.” (Proverbs 12:25)
One of my first holiday recollections was of a Thanksgiving my family, along with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, had celebrated together many years ago when my brother and I were just young boys.
I shared this story through Facebook over the Thanksgiving holiday and perhaps you’re already familiar with it. You know, the one where the baby chicks my brother and I were given at Easter became part of the Thanksgiving meal some months later.
This, of course, being announced to me by a cousin as I was about to bite into my second piece of fried chicken! Oh well, they were cute when they were little and tasty when they were older. I guess that’s a good thing.
But that was Thanksgiving and now we’re staring Christmas right in the face. How did it come around so quickly?
All I Ever Wanted For Christmas
I remember when I was a boy it seemed as though Christmas would never come, especially those last couple of weeks.
At Christmas time, I would wear that Montgomery Ward catalogue out. I could find the toy section in an instant and then within the toy section, I would flip immediately to the electric train page.
Oh man, all I ever wanted was an electric train. Usually, there would be a picture of a Lionel train, an American Flyer train and then a Marx Toys train of some kind.
I wanted a Lionel that had real smoke, a whistle and a light. Maybe if my folks saw me enough times glued to that page of trains they’d get the hint.
I remember once I picked up the catalogue to “assume the position” on the train page because I thought my dad was about to walk by. To my shock, the train page and several other of the toy pages were missing; ripped out it appeared! “It must be my brother!,” I thought.
Later, I was to learn (and I can’t say how) that they had been ripped out in response to a higher calling than a boy’s silly dreams. They found their way to our outhouse which was 50 feet or so behind our little dwelling.
The train page was gone and my life, it seemed, had gone off the rails!
I never got that Lionel train and that’s ok. A little later in life, I realized my parents could not have afforded such a toy. They did eventually get me a Marx Toys train, which I cherished greatly and still do.
Yes, I still have it and it still runs. Maybe I’ll set it up again this Christmas.
When I was a boy, we celebrated Christmas with lights, trees, and even Santa.
Now I know there are some who have great disdain for this kind of pagan ritualized celebration and I respect their right to that opinion.
But somewhere through all the trees, tinsel and turmoil, my brother and I clearly understood it was all about Jesus.
We understood it most clearly when we went to my Aunt Lorena’s house to celebrate their Christmas.
When you walked in the front door of their beautiful home, your eyes immediately went to the large Christmas tree with a literal sea of presents cascading out from beneath.
For my brother and I it was kind of a good news/bad news scenario. The good news is that there was going to be a grand display of Christmas present opening. The bad news was that it was their Christmas celebration for their kids and grandkids. We would be onlookers, pretending to be overjoyed at the wonderful gifts our cousins were receiving but really kinda wishing we were home opening our own.
We might get a book or something, but I only saw that as a possible tunnel for my hoped for Lionel train to go through.
But I digress…
The Most Important Present of All
The first and most important thing that happened before all the gift opening was that we all had to sit down quietly around the tree. Do you know how hard that is for a bunch of kids that have already eyed their gifts and can’t wait to tear into them?
Aunt Lorena would say “Now everyone, before we open presents for ourselves, we’re going to open the most important present for Jesus.”
Then Aunt Lorena would have one of her grandchildren, usually the youngest capable of reading, find the envelope with Jesus’ name on it. The child would bring the envelope to my Aunt Lorena, and she would beam with a joy that would not be equaled the rest of the evening.
She would then remind us that this was Jesus’ birthday we were celebrating and that every good gift comes from Him.
We would sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus, then Aunt Lorena would open the envelope and explain to us where the generous check inside was to be designated.
Many a missionary and ministry around the world received a wonderful gift on Jesus’ birthday.
When I was little, I guess I kinda thought Jesus got the short end of the stick. All the kids got boxes of presents, toys, and gifts too wonderful for words, it seemed. Jesus… just an envelope!
But as I grew and came to know Christ, I realized that Aunt Lorena had it all figured out just right.
It really is so much more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35)
It’s been a joy to share some Christmas memories with you. I hope they brought a smile to your face. Perhaps, you were also in need of the release of some endorphins!
Most of all, I pray you have a blessed Christmas. And as you celebrate this holiday in the right spirit, always remembering that it’s Jesus’ Birthday, I pray that you too will make rich, joyful and lasting Christmas memories.