Christmas Greetings, 2014

I am a frustrated writer.  I have known that since high school, when my idol was John-Boy Walton.  (Well, idol may be too fine a point.)  At any rate, I love to write, and the essay has become my genre of choice, I suppose.  I may have dabbled a bit in fiction, but I haven’t the patience for it, really.  I enjoy the immediacy of the essay.  I love to share thoughts and ideas.  And I must admit that there are times when I have sat back after a couple of days and re-read a piece, only to think, “This is actually good.”  Had I not written it, I would enjoy reading it.  Sometimes, the inspiration to write is so direct and so urgent that I look at the product and think, “Where did that come from?”  Thoughts and ideas pour onto the screen, ostensibly from the action of my fingers and brain, but there are times when for the life of me, I don’t know how I came up with certain phrases.  Writing is a passion.       

I am grateful that anyone would take the time to read any of my blog posts.  The comments I have received and the sense of accomplishment at having expressed something that others may have been struggling with make the effort worth the late nights and early mornings when I usually find the time to really connect with my wayward thoughts.  Perhaps some would consider a blog to be a work of vanity, but I think of it as a labor of love. 

A year ago, I published a post called “Coming to Terms with Joy to the World.”  It was quite popular with those who read my blog, and for that, I am deeply grateful.  Another year has passed, and I have not changed my thinking in the least.  I still believe it is a wonderful thing to take the time to think about one of the greatest events to grace this tired old reality, the birth of a baby who would change the world. 

No, I am well aware that we were never instructed to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  But then, there is no record in the canon of the Jews ever being commanded to observe the Festival of Lights, also called the Feast of Dedication, or more commonly known as Hanukah.  Jesus, good practicing Jew that he was, observed that holiday, as recorded in John 10.  Esther’s holiday of Purim was apparently not divinely appointed, but is still celebrated to this day to mark the Jews’ deliverance from a determined enemy.

I do not purport that Jesus was born on December 25th as in the Western tradition, or January 6th as in the Eastern tradition.  The article cited in the post mentioned above does a fine job of describing how Christians came to observe the birth at those times.

I do not suggest that there were three wise men, or magi, that visited Jesus’ family while he lay in a manger.  No, there were at least two, and they brought at least three kinds of precious gifts sometime after his birth. 

I do believe beyond any doubt in my mind that Jesus came to this world and lived as we do.  I believe that he taught a message that had been nearly lost by a people who had lost sight of their place in creation, though the prophets had called God’s erring children back to it time and again.  Love.  Peace.  Grace.  Justice.  Mercy.  Each concept leapt to new life under the master’s touch.  And believers today still hear him and glow with joy at his message. 

And this makes them want to celebrate, for there could have been no perfect sacrificial offering had there been no humble birth.  There would have been no merciful teacher and judge and healer who showed to hurting people their true selves, as they were, but in mercy and love, showed them what they could become.  Some, like the Samaritan woman with the checkered past would rise above what lay behind her.  Some like the rich young ruler would walk away sorrowful, even though he had just experienced one of the most moving experiences any human could behold, where Mark records the exchange, pointedly noting, “10.21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said….”

Had Jesus never come to this life, we would never have seen ourselves in the impetuous nature of Peter, or the intellectual endeavors of Paul, or the well-placed diligence of Mary juxtaposed against the skewed sense of duty of her sister, Martha.  We would have missed the sincere doubt of Thomas, who, when faced with the ultimate evidence of Jesus’ on-going life, declared, “My Lord and my God!”

I used to feel a twinge of guilt when I sang Christmas carols that spoke of Jesus’ birth.  But no more.  Some of my favorite holiday songs are of the “sacred” variety.  I love “Carol of the Bells,” remembering my short stint in high school chorus, and singing the high tenor part (“Diiiiing, dong, ding, doooong….”), when what I really wanted to sing was the baritone… (“Bohhmmmm!”)  I love “Mary Did You Know?”, whether sung a cappella, or in popular style, or bluegrass.

It took 50 years, but I finally got Christmas.

My wife grew up in a very different heritage, where Christmas was a special and spiritual time of year.  Her mother loved the season, and carols were sung at her December funeral, at the suggestion of a fine and caring minister who knew how much she loved Christmas. 

My wife remembered her family’s table-top nativity scene, so important to her experience of the holiday as a child, but now long gone after the passing of her wonderful parents.  I wanted her to have a connection with her childhood, so last year, I bought a starter set for a nice collectible line that could be expanded as years go by.  But there was no stable.  What is a nativity scene without a stable?  As luck would have it, I found a “vintage” porcelain set at Goodwill, this one with its original rustic wooden stable, and a similar scale to the new set… And so now we have two sets.  And a new stable this year for the newer set.  And they are both nice.  And they make me smile, and think of a baby, born into an unkind world, who would demonstrate to us all, from then and for all time, what love can do.      

I know that December 25th is not Jesus’ actual birthday.  But he was born.  And he lived.  And he died.  And he changed the world.  And he changed my life.

And that is worth celebrating.

Everyone knows the opening lines of Isaac Watt’s “Joy to the World.” 

“Joy to the world!  The Lord is come!  Let Earth receive her king!”

But the final verse is powerful, in its own right, echoing John’s little reflected on declaration from the first chapter of his gospel account.

“He rules the world with truth and grace,

And makes the nations prove

The glories of His righteousness,

And wonders of His love,

And wonders of His love,

And wonders, wonders, of His love.”

 To all my dear friends to whom these greetings may come, those I have known for many years, and those I may have yet to meet: May your Christmas and New Year be blessed with his truth and grace.  To find that truth and grace, it may be necessary to peel away accumulated layers of religion, and get to know the real Jesus.  He is a friend for the ages.  And a friend like that is worth keeping. 

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2 Responses to Christmas Greetings, 2014

  1. Doris Lee says:

    I totally agree, Darrell! You are a gifted writer and I believe all gifts come from above. I also agree that Christmas is more than Decorated trees and gifts but first and foremost a celebration of Jesus’ birth. Doesn’t matter if it’s the actual day He was born, the important thing is recognizing the birth and what it means for all creation. To me, the ultimate gift! Merry Christmas to you and your family and as long as you write your blog, I will look forward to reading them.

  2. Dawn Tucker says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. Well done, my friend, well done!

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