So far this Christmas season, I have gone to two family Christmases, had two Christmas parties, I have gone out Christmas shopping several times, spend hours driving around with Christmas music playing, I have cruised the streets of town at night oohing and aahing over the neighborhood Christmas lights. I have wrapped presents, sang carols, kept the fire going in the stove, turned up the music, and worked-out to Christmas with Scotty McCreary. I've drank eggnog and hot cider, eaten peppermint ice-cream and Ande's Mint cookies, and consumed all manner of holiday candy while decorating graham-cracker houses. I've counted down the days til Christmas, helped my siblings decide on what gifts to buy for whom and bought a few winner gifts myself. I've gone to a Christmas pageant, a Christmas-time play and watched quite a few Christmas movies. I've listened to my favorite Christmas albums and discovered a few new favorites. I've been busy enough to feel like I've somehow been teleported into the middle of The Christmas Can-Can and found myself desperately trying to keep up with the fellows of Straight No Chaser. But in the best kind of way.
But all those things up there? That's not how I celebrate Christmas. Oh, that's a big part of my Christmas and I LOVE it (well, except for maybe the crazy busyness of this particular year); I look forward all year to doing all those things and more. But the real way that I really celebrate and uphold Christmas in my heart....is in the quiet.
In the early morning or the late evenings, I turn off all the lights in the living room. I walk around the edges of the room, flipping the switches that turn on all the points of holiday lights: the lights on the wooden nativity given to us by my aunt in the Navy; the colored lights on the Christmas tree; the lights in the greenery around our porcelain nativity at the central point of the room; the white lights entwined through the greenery on the high shelf that runs across the room; the twinkling lights in the corner wrapped around the red berries and glass candle-sticks. After all the soft holiday lights are on, I light the white candle on the coffee table in front of the couch, the one wrapped around with a garland of red berries. Then with soft, introspective Christmas carols softly playing through the speakers, I curl up on the couch. And it's here, in the midst of the quiet beauty all around me, I celebrate Christmas.
In the mornings, I read my bible, worship the Lord and pray. In the evenings, I just sit and think about the goodness of the Lord and the Christmases past, present and perhaps future. With just the twinkling points of light giving ambiance to the room, everything else comes to a stop and it's just me. Sometimes I just sit or lay there for minutes on end. Sometimes I pray for my family, I pray for myself. I pray for those I know and care about who aren't walking with the Lord. I talk to God about how I feel about life and love, I tell Him how much I love His Christmas and what it really means. Sometimes I just dream. Sometimes I cry a little, sometimes I smile to myself as different thoughts cross my mind. Sometimes I feel that overwhelming sadness that is really that special kind of happy that’s unique for melancholy people.
Whatever I choose to think and mull over as I sit there, it all comes down to what flows from my heart in thankfulness. A thankfulness rooted in what Christmas stands for, what I see in the nativities, reflecting the beginning of Jesus' time of humility, submission and obedience down on earth. The start of our salvation found in a stable.
The past few mornings as I've sat in quiet beauty described above, with my bible open and a mug of eggnog in my hand, I've read the Christmas story. But instead of beginning in the first verse of Luke chapter two and ending in verse 20 with the shepherds, I've begun at very beginning of Chapter One and read all the way through to chapter 2 verse 40. As I've read through these several pages, I've soaked up the full picture of Jesus' birth:
Gabriel appearance to Zechariah in the temple, the promise of a child to him and Elizabeth, a child who would “make ready for the Lord a people prepared,” Zechariah being stuck mute for his unbelief. Gabriel's appearance to Mary, the promise of a conceived Messiah, Mary's humble reply “behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Mary's visit to Elizabeth, how unborn baby John, the prophet of the Most High, moved in the womb at the sound of Mary's voice, and then Mary's Magnificat, “for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” Then the birth of baby John, and Zechariah's return of speech, followed by the Holy Spirit's indwelling of Zechariah and the prophecy that he spoke over his son, “and you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His way.” And then the census issued by Caesar Augustus, Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem, the birth of the Most High himself, Jesus, born in an animal stable because the inns were too full. Then the angel's visit to the shepherds, “fear not, for behold! I bring you good news of a great joy that shall be for all people,” and the chorus of the heavenly hosts that praised God before the shepherds. The shepherds of one accord searching for the baby until they found Mary, Joseph and Jesus in the stable. How they left the stable and told everyone what had happened, and the wonder of the people of Bethlehem.
Then the naming and circumcision of Jesus and Mary and Joseph taking him to the temple to be purified, because “every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.” And then Simeon, old, frail and shaking, as I picture him, cradling Jesus in his old arms, blessing God because “my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of this people.” And Anna the prophettess, married for only seven short years and living widowed until she was eighty-four in the temple day and night, worshiping with fasting and prayer. And how, at the very hour that the infant Jesus was brought to the temple, she “began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” And then as it comes to a close, Joseph and Mary's return to Nazareth. And then, the best part of all:“And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.”
That is my Christmas. The fun things, the activities, the parties, the presents and the holiday lights, are tools of my overall celebration of the season of Christ's birth. But for me, in the quiet of my living room, with the soft lights twinkling and the quiet carols playing, that's when I really celebrate Christmas.