Rediscovering the Love of Christmas
Understanding what it means to start at the end
I love Christmas. I always have. In my childhood, Christmas was the magical season every kid hopes it will be. Not because we were wealthy, we weren’t. But there was just something about the season, the way my parents celebrated it and the way it made me feel that ensconced it in my heart as my favorite time of year.
I will also admit that there have been times in the last several years where I had to search hard to find that same magic. As a father and now a grandfather we still do all the traditional things we love, but the cares of the world, the daily frustrations of life and the ever-present challenges of strained relationships and unmet expectations have made some parts of Christmas more of a forced discipline than liberating celebration.
One moment last year jarred me deeply, and I plan for it to be my central driving image for this Christmas season. I was sitting in my chair in our Norman Rockwell decorated great room; stunning Christmas tree, eleven stockings hung over a crackling fire, Christmas cookies baking, hot cocoa in my hand and a dog at my feet. I was warm, cozy, full, pampered and content, well sort of. I had mindlessly found a TV channel showing the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes doing their annual Christmas show. The music was wonderful, but in all the costumes, glitz and glamour I was trying to find a center, a reason and a purpose for it all.
In the midst of a rousing rendition of “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree,” I heard the wind begin to howl. I looked outside our great room windows. To share with you what I saw let me take a moment and set the scene.
For the past several years one of my favorite activities in preparing for Christmas is setting up a large nativity scene on our property. Three Ponderosa pines provide the perfect backdrop where bales of straw are carefully stacked to provide the walls and sides of the little family’s natal dwelling. Some two-by-fours and cedar fencing create the look of a stable and straw is strewn around to create the full effect. And there in the middle is a large angel with outstretched wings standing next to a Bethlehem star lit up in small white lights. In front of her is all the usual cast of characters; three wise men, two shepherds, five sheep, and in the middle Mary, Joseph, and little baby Jesus in a straw-filled manger. A single floodlight illuminates the entire display perfectly. From anywhere in our great room or kitchen you can look out the window and see the scene so quiet and peaceful.
On this night, however, three inches of snow had preceded a gusty wind that took the temperatures down into single digits. With the wind chill it was 10 degrees below zero. For us that meant adding a heavier comforter and stoking the fire. But on this night, when I looked out to see my happy manger scene, the icy wind was causing little baby Jesus in the manger to wobble. I didn’t want it to fall over so I got up and took a step out onto our deck. As much as I love cold weather, the chill was so biting I chose to stay inside. I went back to my chair and sat looking back-and-forth between Christmas at Radio City Music Hall and a little baby Jesus holding on for dear life in the icy wind of a dark Spokane winter night.
Something about that scene touched a place deep inside me, and to my surprise, I started to cry. I don’t mean quiet little tears and a sniffle, I mean real crying, almost sobbing. I was moved deeply at the thought that out there in that snow and wind is my Lord and Savior. His first breath, first cry could not have come in a more humble, vulnerable and unpretentious way. How striking was the contrast between the glaring lights, gaudy costumes and lifeless songs of a New York stage and the little baby shivering in the cold, alone …and full of grace and truth. Even more striking is that Christmas is all about the latter and not at all about the former.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it so powerfully,
“Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.” God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas
Stewarding Christmas requires humility. So here is my encouragement to you: start at the end. I used to think of Christmas as a four-week journey to the manger. Now I believe that to steward Christmas in a God-pleasing way means starting at the manger and letting everything else find its place accordingly. When you begin at the side of that shivering child who came to earth for you, you have the right perspective to consider how best to honor him as you steward this season for His glory.
This blog is adapted from our ebook, ‘Stewarding Christmas’, available for free here.
- Faithfulness in following God’s leading and not trusting in our own strength
- The continuing work of the Holy Spirit working to challenge and bless people through our writing and speaking
- Advent peace