We have in our family a Christmas tradition which has now endured for over sixty years. Our family has always chosen to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus and all related joys of the Christmas season on Christmas Eve day.
Some would argue that the “related joys” such as lights, presents, decorations, and all that accompanies what we call Christmas have no place in the Christian celebration. I would beg to differ however. I believe every twinkling light, every gift exchanged and even those poor inflatables that come to life in the yard at night and lie sadly deflated during the day, serve a purpose, though perhaps unintended.
They all testify to the fact that something happened! God invaded history in a manger in Bethlehem and the world has never been the same. Now I would certainly concede that one can go too far in all this celebratory extravagance, but the fact remains if Jesus isn’t given in a manger, there are no lights, presents, carols or anything we refer to as the Christmas season. Thus, “…all things in moderation” remains a good guide.
A Family Christmas Dinner
Our family gathers for the traditional Christmas meal (at least at our house) of Swedish meatballs, even though we’re mostly Norwegian in our heritage. Our children used to and now our grandchildren continue to suffer through the slow motion process of adults enjoying a wonderful meal. Comments like, “Oh, these mashed potatoes are the best!” or “I think I will have one more meatball,” seem so meaningless compared to the desire to dive into the sea of presents at the base of the Christmas tree.
Then the dreaded conversation every child mourns at the end of the meal…”Should we do the dishes before or after presents?” To a child anxiously waiting to see if they’ll get to utter those wonderful words…. “Oh, that’s just what I’ve always wanted”, a conversation about doing dishes is as deflating as what the blow up Santa in the front yard will experience in the morning.
Then, in a surprising if not miraculous turn of events, one of the adults (usually me) says, “The kids are excited, let’s open presents, we can do the dishes later.” (I’m good at the “presents” announcement but a little weak on the “we” part of doing dishes.)
With great excitement and unbridled energy the children rush to the living room as meatball, mashed potato laden adults follow carefully and slowly behind. Still, before presents are exchanged there is one more detail to take care of, a tradition to be observed. The reading of the Christmas story.
My Christmas Story Tradition
When I was four years old, my mom and dad bought a Christmas story gift set. It contains a spiral bound book containing two Christmas carols: While Shepherds Watched and Away in a Manger. It also contains a short and sweet account of the age old Christmas story replete with wonderful illustrations. The set also contains a 3D cardboard nativity scene which must be assembled by inserting tab A into slot A and so on.
As I write this account, I’m a little teary-eyed as I remember being a small boy sitting around the tree as mom, dad or perhaps my brother would read the story. One day I would be old enough to read the story myself and this would surely be a significant rite of passage.
Speaking of passage, the years have come and gone, our daughter and then our son have read the story often. Now our grandkids have read it. Not that long ago our now fourteen year old grandson, Jacob, read the story while Sophia held the all-important star of Bethlehem (a flashlight) to illuminate the manger scene. Sophia is now twelve and such a reader of books. In recent years Sophia has read the story and Alex held the star. Maybe Alex, now seven, will read this year while Caleb (3) holds the star, though I fear the star will be moving and shining everywhere. Ava, just short of a year old is waiting in the wings to someday shine and read as follows:
Mary and Joseph were on the way to Bethlehem. Mary rode on a donkey. Joseph led the donkey carefully over the rough roads. They had traveled all day and now it was growing dark.
At last they came to an inn. “Have you any room for us?” Joseph asked the innkeeper. “No, there is no room in the inn,” the innkeeper replied.
The innkeeper looked at Mary. He saw how tired she was. Then he said, “If you like, you may sleep in the stable. There is some clean hay that will make a soft bed for you.”
“Thank you sir,” said Joseph. Joseph helped Mary off the donkey. He led her into the stable. They were both glad to have a place to rest.
There in the stable, In the quiet night-time, God sent His Son to be Mary’s Baby. There was no bed for the little Jesus in the stable.
“I will make a bed for the Baby in the Manger,” Mary said to Joseph.
Mary wrapped her Baby in some soft, white cloth and carefully laid him in the manger on some sweet hay.
Out in the fields near Bethlehem some shepherds were watching their flocks. The sheep were resting quietly while the shepherds were gathered around the fire talking together.
Suddenly a bright light shone around them. The shepherds had never seen such a bright light before. And they were afraid.
Then an angel appeared. The angel said, “Do not be afraid, for I bring you tidings of great joy. Jesus is born in Bethlehem. You will find Him lying in a manger there.”
And as the shepherds listened to the wonderful news the heavens were filled with angels saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
“Let us go and see this thing that has happened,” the shepherds said. And they hurried across the fields to Bethlehem.
(The Christmas Story By: Ruth S. Gray Warren Press 1952)
So this Christmas let’s read the story again. Let’s tell the story every day of our lives through the words we speak and the way we live. Let’s shine the light on the reality of Christ and the truth of His word just as surely and clearly as God lit up the sky over that little manger in Bethlehem so long ago.
May all we are and all we do express The Christmas Story