Celebrating Christmas is a skill. I’m not particularly good at this craft, but I have at least figured out that you must handle the holidays with a measure of prowess. Just letting Christmas happen to you is a recipe for trouble. Like sailing a ship, Christmas is an opportunity requiring keen attention at the helm.
Every year, it seems, I gain a lesson in what not to do and resolve to do things a little better the next time around. I do not pretend to offer anything like a comprehensive word on the subject here, nor to speak with authority. But after many tries at it, a few reflections may at least stimulate thought as we reflect back on this past season and look to the future.
This is harder for some than for others; but it is vital never to permit tradition or fantasy to overwhelm reality. Fulfilling traditions and meeting expectations is not evil; but unrestrained dreams can quickly morph into vampire-like nemeses that suck the joy from our souls. Have a long talk with your head (rather than your heart) at the outset of the holiday season: “Some preparations will fail. Unforeseen complications will arise. Some things will not go well. And all of that is okay.” Do not expect to hit a home run every Christmas; hitting a single now and then is acceptable. Moderate expectations can brighten the season considerably.
Like almost all children, I loved Christmas. Being brought up in a religious (but non-evangelical home), I understood the meaning of the holiday from as far back as I could remember. We always went to church every Sunday and would not think of missing church on Christmas.
Part of our Christmas décor included setting up a small Christmas crèche, complete with a light that fit into a “star” slot above the stable. Although I was led to believe in Santa Claus, the religious nature of the holiday was always front and center. My mom sent only Christmas cards with manger scenes, and we never bought Christmas albums that did not have at least some faith-based carols.
When I was very young, my sister and I would go out with my parents to purchase a live Christmas tree about a week before Christmas. We would decorate it with ornaments, tinsel, and those old-fashioned colored bulbs. One year, a neighbor moved and left us a silver tree. We tried it one year, but it seemed so cold. We returned to purchasing live trees, but eventually decided to buy an artificial green tree.
Years ago when our kids were very young, we lived in South Florida. Even though I hadn’t grown up with an annual white Christmas (snow in our part of Tennessee was a pretty rare event) I found it very difficult to get into the Christmas spirit when it was 75 degrees outside. You can only turn the air conditioning down so far, and there’s just something wrong with Christmas lights strung on palm trees.
In fairness, the people who lived there tried to get into the spirit of the season. One year a car dealership announced that they were bringing a truckload of snow to dump in their lot so that kids could come and play. There were a lot of kids there, including ours, to play in the “snow.” But what they ended up with looked more like something that came out of a snow cone machine than out of clouds in the sky.
Christmas has always been important to me. When we were very young, our parents had us memorize the Christmas story from Luke 2. We would quote it from memory on Christmas morning before opening the presents. When the only thing standing between you and presents is twenty verses from Luke, you can talk pretty fast.
Many of the traditions we set then when I was child carried forward into our family. Some of them, including Luke 2, we still do today. Although as long as my parents don’t read this, I’ll admit that these days somebody usually has a Bible handy in case we get stuck. I never can remember whether “and the shepherds returned” comes before or after “and Mary kept all these things.”
Where can we begin as we thank God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit for telling us what we need to know about the true identity of the Triune God and what each Person of the Godhead has done and will do in the created universe?
First, the Father, through Christ the Son, as revealed by the Spirit in the Bible, created millions of wonderful spirit-beings called angels. The Lord asked Job:
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (NKJV, Job 38:4, 7; Job 1:6 informs us that “the sons of God” were angels).
How many angels did God create? Approximately 600 million—because one-third of all angels, led by Satan, rebelled against their Creator (Rev. 12:4), and their number was 200 million (Rev. 9:16). That is a large number—but praise God, twice that many remained faithful to Him, in contrast to mankind, where:
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way. (Isa. 53:6)
Now, this is the focus of our Thanksgiving meditation this year: We, being limited human beings, need the help of God’s holy angels. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14).