Sunday, October 9, 2016

As we approach mid-October, I am reminded that the days between October 1 and Christmas Day always seem to pass by like the blink of an eye. Below is an article that I wrote a few years ago to remind myself not to let the stress of the holiday season blind me to the joy of what it is really all about.

Why Bother With Christmas?

“What night are we going to get together with the kids to have our family Christmas?” My husband asked as he walked through the room, barely stopping to hear my reply. Staring at the ink-filled squares representing my life for the coming month, I tried to formulate a reply, which came out more like a desperate plea for help. “From the looks of the calendar, I think we’ll be waiting until New Year’s. We have something going on every night in December. There are all the church group parties, our friend’s parties, our small group caroling, the ladies’ cookie exchange, the elders’ and wives party, the staff party, and then of course, the 12 Christmas Eve services. I don’t see any way we can get together with the kids in the middle of all this. For one thing, I haven’t had time to do any shopping, and after I find time to do that, I have to wrap everything. Somehow I have to get the decorations up before the pastors’ wives party, which reminds me – when can you put the lights on the outside of the house? And I need you to assemble the tree so I can decorate it!”

For families in ministry, this conversation may ring a familiar bell. For most people Christmas is a time for family, perhaps attending a Christmas Eve service together before gathering around the Christmas tree. For a pastor’s family, celebrating Christmas can hold a unique challenge as family time must compete with a myriad of church obligations. Our family has celebrated Christmas on Thanksgiving, on New Year’s, or anywhere in-between, but rarely do we have the time – or the energy – to celebrate on Christmas Eve.

As our church has grown, so have the number of Christmas Eve services. In our household, Christmas Eve has come to be synonymous with multiple services and spending Christmas at the church building. A few years ago, my husband discovered that many people were torn between attending Christmas Eve service and being with family. In an effort to allow them to do both, he began to offer Christmas Eve services on December 23rd, as well as December 24th. This addition has been surprisingly well-received and it seems every year the services for both evenings are packed with those who feel a special need to reconnect with the Christmas story and still have time to be with family. For us, it’s a time of great blessing to see so many people gather, knowing that many only have this one chance to hear of God’s amazing love. But finding time – and energy -- for a family celebration in the midst of all this has become an annual challenge, especially now that all three of our grown children are also in ministry, with families of their own -- and in-laws to factor in! Each year we juggle our schedules to try and find time to make it happen.

In spite of what could easily be termed “a hassle” by some, our family has found that the joy of Christmas is always there, waiting for us, no matter when we celebrate it. It may not be on Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning, or even on Christmas evening, as it is for many families. But the moment we gather together we are reminded why we make the effort as the real meaning of Christmas finds its way into our hearts.

I’ll never forget one special Christmas, as our family carved out some time to share in the Christmas celebration. We decided to dig out some costumes from the church props closet and prevail upon the children to perform a reenactment of the first Christmas. As you can probably imagine, a gathering of our three children, their spouses, and our 11 grandchildren is often accompanied by what borders on chaos, and this night was no different. It was an effort to corral squirming kids to decide which costume best fit whom, and referee arguments over who would play which part. When at last we found ourselves ready for the big event, my husband read the Christmas story from the Bible. As parents and grandparents we gathered around, watching the transformation of rowdy little boys into regal wise men and a dignified Joseph. Excited and giggly little girls suddenly became curious shepherds, glorious angels, and an extremely maternal Mary. One wiggly little baby was surprisingly willing to be still long enough to be the baby that brought the purest of all love into the world.

Amidst much flashing of cameras and parental pride, we were all struck by the importance of what really took place, not just on this make-shift stage, but on that long ago night. A night when another Father watched as His Son was cradled by humanity. These children whom we love were acting out a love of another kind, a love that brings us to our knees as we try to grasp the meaning of the words of the angel, “For unto us a Son is born.” As we watched our children in their rag-tag costumes posed before us, we were reminded once again that Christmas is not about a day on the calendar – it’s about a living God and a love that transcends our understanding.

This was the Christmas card we sent out in 2005. That little baby "Jesus" is now 11 years old and nearly every one of these children are taller than me! But this image will always be one of my all time favorites and hopefully these children, many of whom are already young adults, will never forget the time they were transformed into a living reminder that Jesus is the Reason for the Season!