Early in life, I learned that there is something special about Christmas. As a child I often lay on the floor under the tree, looking up through the lights, entranced. Once, in my early teens, I stayed by the tree, reading, after the rest of the family went to bed. The temperature dropped outside, and a light snow began to fall. Indoors, the household drifted deeper into sleep, and outdoors, the night drifted deeper into silence and cold, with softly falling snow. The light of the tree lit the room: I was warm in heart, surrounded by light and smell of Christmastide. Sometime in the night, I looked out the frosted window, and something indefinable drew me outside – beauty of the glistening snow, beckoning stillness. So I put on shoes and coat and walked out the front door, onto the porch. The snow crunched underfoot with that squeaky, tell-tale sound of extreme cold, and the light of the streetlight shined blue-white on the snow, a halo of moving light, as tiny crystals of snow drifted down… not flakes now, but falling crystals, each forming diamonds in the night, drifting through the light. The silence and wonder washed over me, and I stood still in the stillness of the Christmas light. A moment of pure beauty – and then, suddenly, a moment of pure love: Holy Love seemed to flow from the wonder around me, and the Presence of God wrapped around me. I don’t know how long I stood there, transported. Somehow, I wasn’t cold, “lost in wonder, love and grace.”
I’ve come to believe that Christmas is a time of divine favor. God is always at work, and ever present, in all seasons of nature and human life, but there is something about the season when the name of Christ is on hundreds of thousands of lips, simultaneously. When He is lifted up, the Holy Spirit draws humans to God. A numinous grace covers the land – we feel strangely urged to give gifts, hang lights, and help others. Yes, this is easily distorted into commercial caricature – false romanticism, misguided mythmaking, family idolatry and excess – but even the caricature points to something beyond itself. One song says, “I believe in Father Christmas!” We hear of Father Christmas, or Santa Claus or “Jolly Old St. Nicholas,” and the soul is potentially lifted to our Heavenly Father who continually gives us a gift that none of us deserve – the gift of the Eternal Son, Immanuel, God with us, born to “save His people from their sins.” God in a child; God, the ultimate Giver, the Light who shines in our darkness and can never be extinguished. In this grace, we find it’s not about “naughty or nice.” It’s about a gift that no one can deserve or earn.
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given!
Several years ago, a terminally ill 5-year-old boy died in the arms of a costumed Santa. The boy’s last wish was to talk to Santa, so this man dressed up as Santa, and visited him. The boy reached out and cried, “Help me, Santa!” He inquired as to how he would be accepted on the other side. The Santa-impersonator said, “Just tell them that you’re Santa’s number one elf and they’ll let you in.” The boy said, “Okay!” and held onto Santa and died in his arms. So tragic. How much better if the myth had pointed to reality! Santa could have said, “Son, I can’t help you, but I work for One who can. His name is Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God: He too became a child, meek and lowly, that He might bear your sins and mine, and present us faultless to God. Call out to Him, and He will help you and carry you to God. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and HE LOVES YOU.” Forgiveness and eternal life are in the real Christmas!
Merry Christmas, friends! May you experience Christ as the glory of Christmas, this year, leading others in eternal Light. Amen.