Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Well, it is hard to believe how the time has flown. It seem just like yesterday that the family gathered around on Christmas Eve and read the story from Luke Chapter 2 about the birth of the Christ Child, Jesus… the reason for the season. … The true meaning of Christmas. I wish I could say that it was a tradition brought forward from my youth and then passed down to our children, and on to their children, but it was not.  I am at least a 3rd generation Christian. My Granddad was a deacon, highly respected I understand, and my father followed him as a deacon, and yet I cannot remember the reading of the Christmas Story in our home with them more than perhaps just a few times, or later after my grandparent’s deaths, with just my parents remaining.

I remember we had our own tree and Grammy and Granddad had one as well… a much smaller version, which I couldn’t understand at the time.  But, now older and much wiser, (Ya.. you all believe that one right?) I can see that it made Christmas, for them, a quieter more personal time together. They would always join us during the day as we ate Christmas dinner together, but they wanted that space, their time to reflect I believe, on their greater circle of family and friends… a very meaningful time for them.

Granddad always said grace. It was special to us who gathered around that table. It was not long, it was to the point, but meaningful. As we say in our family today, and I have heard a great many times, “Keep it short the food is getting cold Dad”. I was glad when I stopped being the token Pastor at gatherings and was finally just Dad or Edwin in those extended social gatherings. It is hard to imagine the joy I felt when my oldest daughter finally one day chimed in with the words, “Ok everybody I am going to ask the blessing… so QUIET!” Nowadays, during the more intimate gatherings ,our grandchildren take turns asking the blessing for the food and it is amazing how they will add further concerns or blessings to the grace. Perhaps some of the faith of the fathers and mothers has had a positive influence, now deeply engrained in them, I pray.

We’ve all gotten some level of  special Christmas gifts I am sure. Do you recount some special thing that you had hoped for and then received through your youth? One or two things have been highlights that are first on my list of memories from Christmas past. We wanted a wagon. Back then a wagon meant many things. It was a mode of transport when we were towed around by parents who found it hard to be carrying two boys while on walks. It was also a vehicle to coast down the hills on wild rides, and sometimes landing upside down in briar patches or in the brook at the bottom of the path leading to the road, until we were big enough to gain better control. But it meant work too… a load of wood piled too high so we might make fewer trips between the wood pile and the house when it was time to fill the wood box.

My adventurous spirit cried out for a sword. A fish vendor came by every week. A great friend of the family and to me, as it turned out. He gave me smoked haddock on the sly, to eat raw, when he came, and I am positive he never charged Mom for an ounce of it through the years that he visited our home. He was an older gentleman and we missed him when her retired, but he had one last gift to bring via a secret request made by my Mom.  I had been asking for this sword that I mentioned, and he brought me several swordfish swords. My Dad would patiently put them in the brook or an ant’s nest as prescribed by Scotty (our fish vendor’s nickname… his last name was Scott) but none of them turned out to be fit for making a sword.

One Christmas I opened a very special gift…. It was a sword. Scotty had gotten a wonderful man, who lived on Reed’s Hill in our town to make a sword for me. He was a native and had made wonderful hand-carved swords, and because he knew our family (likely friends with my Granddad or my Dad and our Scotty), he made me the sword for almost nothing. That sword, worth much money today ( for a mere 5 dollars back then), became a much loved possession that I have kept down through the years. I hope one day that one of my children, or grandchildren, will want it to be part of their prized possessions, along with some of the things I have made and given them. Heirlooms are not as popular perhaps these days, but I can dream that some of those things will be passed on to caring recipients.

But it is not about the stuff. It is about the meaning, and our home was filled with meaning. There had to be choices made and it was always without threat, when it came to faith and religious dedication to ongoing worship and celebration in the Faith. When others stayed home on days when Christmas landed on Sunday, to open gifts and play with toys, we opened gifts and then went to Church to celebrate the greatest gift of all …. The birth of Jesus. “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Found in Isaiah 9:6) It was not a burden; it was enlightenment that one day became a way of life, a meaningful extension of who we would become as modern shepherds, and wise men, women and children, who would seek out the Christ Child each year. Oh it may have had its moments at first, when disappointment found our hearts, having to leave those gifts behind, but that did not last for long.

These past 40 plus years of married life have brought changes, once we had a family of our own. Yes there were the disappointments that families face. The Christmas after we lost our first son (he would be 41now) was hard for me and likely was even harder for my wonderful wife, but we knew that God would provide and He did. A year later a new joy found us with our first daughter beside the Christmas tree and through the ensuing years another daughter and then another son followed. Christmas became so much fun and along with the joy of gathering, we started reading the Christmas Story on Christmas Eve, and we set forth new traditions. Some years, while living away, we traveled hours to get home to spend time with our parents, so that they could share Christmas with the grandchildren who they got to see only a few times a year. These were important family times, filled with opportunity to record the smiles, the excitement, and the joys of just time to chat. We rehearsed the past and watched children who had a whole lifetime ahead of them dream of every adventure possible, that evolved from those gifts unwrapped and scattered before them on Christmas morning.

Now we watch our children and grandchildren lead the way in celebration as they ring forth His praises, “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and goodwill toward men”, in word, pageantry and song. One day perhaps, one of them or maybe even a few of them, will be thinking back over the years and remember their Granddad’s long ,and hopefully meaningful prayers with them at Christmas, regardless of the worry over the food growing cold, and record for the next generations their thoughts about the joys of Christmas. May they carry those memories forward and show their children and grandchildren the true Reason for the Season, while remembering some of the ghosts of their own Christmas’ past.

It is a journey not everyone who reads today will want to take or enjoy taking, I am sure. There may be those of you who will not have fond and lasting memories of Christmas in your childhood or even as adults in family together. Many the times there have been, when I had to pray for families who were spending Christmas in fear, unrest and anger, as discord was the environment in the home. The answer is not in the stresses of affording, wrapping and giving, it is in the time spent together and it is what we do with that time that counts. Yes, too spend a lot of time preparing, making things to give my family, because I have the time.  I can do the work myself and it becomes an extension of the love found in gifts that I can both afford to give and without expectation, give freely just for the joy of doing so. But, most of all, it has become that teary moment, when seeing one of our grandchildren sitting on their father’s knee reading “The Story” from Luke 2 while their Dad helps he or she with the difficult words… a moment this grandparent will never forget, a memory cherished for a lifetime.

What will your Christmas bring to you this year? I pray there will be more to it than the stress of preparations being made and a mad rush of gifts being pulled open on Christmas morning. There is too much suffering from the syndrome of anticlimactic disappointment, as people wonder where it all went and ask themselves, “is all that energy I expended getting ready really worth the effort? “I have been there, so don’t beat yourself up. My journey into frustration with Christmas lasted several years while our children were in their teens and following. Children must make their way out of the nest, and in doing so have to leave us behind temporarily. Those years were lonely and I withdrew somewhat wanting to find a solace, in the comfort that Christmas still had a meaning beyond our children and gifts… a reinvestment you might say, in the true meaning of Christmas. If you are there today and frustrated… take time to consider why and who we celebrate, and try to realign your perspective more towards what may have been left behind.  At this point walk away from the edge…. Yes, you read it correctly dear friends… away from the edge, and go back to the core of what Christmas is really about. This is not the time for just the fringe benefits of Christmas… you and I need the core, the central blessing of the Season…. “But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

I continue to pray for all who need help and ask. I pray for my dear family today, as we have lost another of our loved ones. Christmas will be a more reserved celebration as a husband, a sister and nieces and nephews recall a life that was precious, now gone from their presence. But the Prince of Peace still reigns and He said, “"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. You heard that I said to you,  I go away, and I will come to you. If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (John 14:27-28) This is the child, become a servant on our behalf, whose birth we celebrate… He brings the peace we seek… Seek Him this Christmas! Sometimes the perspective from there brings unexpected joy! Be blessed in Christ as you celebrate this weekend, remembering Jesus’ birth…. Amen!