Saturday, December 31, 2016

About Christmas … You Don’t Always Get What You Want!

“Where there is faith, there is love; Where there is love, there is peace; Where there is peace, there is God;  And where there is God; there is no need.”  -Leo Tolstoy

Christmas, while growing up, was a magical time. Just like all the other children of the post Second World War era, I looked at the mail order catalogues and drooled over all the toys that were being offered. In our world, that protected cloister we called family, there was the small “s” spirit of Christmas called Santa Claus.  I am not sure at what age the truth about his actually being just an image was revealed. I am sure it made a difference at some level, but we still left our Christmas stockings out to be filled and had great expectations of what might be left under the tree, long after we heard the truth.

I am not sure really, that it made that much of a difference about having a Santa Claus or not having one, as the true meaning of Christmas was always present for us. The Christmas Story was read from Luke Chapter 2 through the years, and we have passed that on down to our children… or we pray that to be so. The main theme of Christmas was that of love. All the other bi-products of the commercial celebrations were just a bonus to us. Did we fully understand that when we were merely youngsters? No, of course not, but as we grew and matured it became more evidenced in those family traditions that made up the Christmas season.

I wish I could say that every day was just like Christmas Day, but none of us can say that with all truthfulness, can we. Back then, there was the threat of knowing that the mystical Santa Claus had both a nice and a naughty list, and we lived in fear of a lump of coal or a bundle of sticks in our stockings. We all have those memories where things didn’t always run smoothly and relationships got ruffed up a bit. Some of those moments were hard to get beyond; our ability to let go of “stuff” and forgive, often took a beating. It is said that you can’t take back what comes out of your mouth. Once the harsh or unkind words are spoken, they are fixed in time… and in “memory”… if not yours, the person you said them to.  I remember how important it was for our parents to remind us that we should watch both our language and our attitudes. More than once I have been reminded of my Mom telling us that it was a sin to tell someone that we hate them, and the Scripture reminds us that if our hearts begin to hate someone, we have in essence killed that person already. That was enough to frighten our young hearts, but not always enough to stop our young and contemptuous tongues from spilling forth the words, when our anger got the best of us. Love is sometimes hard to cling to, and even harder to administer under duress, created by self-doubt, or in our weakest moments.

In our culture, in Eastern Canada, we watched Santa Claus’s message every day, following the evening news on the National TV Network. I will never forget Santa’s instruction to all the girls and boys as he ended his talk; “Now repeat after me… I promise to be good in every way and try to make every day, almost as happy as Christmas Day!” That was reflective of the ideal, which hoped for not only joy, but peace in the family, community and world.  Tolstoy’s quote, remind us that there is a “basic need”, required to accomplish the kind of peace in the world, that would be both everlasting and fulfilling. I once wrote of my Mom’s desire to have her sons love her 365 days of the year, not just on Mother’s Day. Love, not being a continuous process on a daily basis, has no great or lasting effect on humanity. There must be a deliberate striving toward that level of love, wherein you gain and retain peace.

Things have changed in so many ways over the past 6 decades. A few days ago our family took a drive around the area to look at the outside decorations and lights. In the 1970’s there were pockets of brightly decorated homes in certain areas. People would flock to those communities and drive around, just to enjoy the beauty of the Season. Not all of the decorations reflected the Christ of Christmas; many were just reflections of childhood interest, in a seasonal reproduction of gifts, and Santa Claus, along with the special arrangements of coloured lights. While the joy of the trip to visit those communities was often discussed among friends, little of the peace and joy of the Christ Child’s birth was retained, just because of superficial dressings of people’s homes. It was what took place inside the homes that was of more interest, as I began to mature, and my heart still wonders, as we drive through those same communities, visiting friends and family during the Christmas Season; do they know the true Reason for the Season?

I can remember pouring through the Christmas Wish Book, which was one of the delights of the pre-Christmas season, as a child. Those mail-order catalogues, though there were central outlets for them in most communities back then, were important factors in every child’s penning of a wish list for Santa, to be delivered through Mom and Dad. Some will remember that old song where the lyrics went something like this: “Johnny wants a pair of skates, Susie wants a dolly; Nellie wants a story book, she thinks dolls are folly”. I may be off on the lyrics there…. It was the version my Dad used to sing. We soon learned that just because we wanted something, our dreams did not always come true.

We lived in an era when the Walt Disney program sang that song, stating that our dreams come true when once we have wished upon a star. Those fantasies soon disappeared when we had to look at the future through some not so rose tinted glasses. Work for you supper and you’ll get breakfast was more in alignment with what took place. Not that we were stone poor; it was a bi-product of living with older parents who saw the plus side of teaching their children the responsibility of helping to support the family by earning their own way in life. It helped everyone, including our parents, who no longer needed to fully shoulder the burden of meeting all the expectations of a new age, with new dreams and potentials, that for the most part, cost lots of money.

Christmas has become even more commercial than it ever was. Can one turn back the clock and revert to a slower, more moderate time and survive the penalty of peer humiliation? Some would say, “Absolutely!” and not care about the repercussions of derision heaped against those under their care, especially those children in relational and fellowship groups in school and playgrounds. There has never been a time when people did “not” look down on the less fortunate. That is a sad statement for sure. But human nature raises its ugly head and scoffs at those who do not come up to the standards of the times. But, still, we don’t always get what we want.

In my work as clergy through the years, there were other circumstances, other reasons, other criteria whereby I experienced the plea for a wish to come true. I’ve stood by the side of dying people and heard their family’s plea for a life to continue, for sickness to turn once again to health. I have listened while well-meaning individuals promised the sick that if they surrendered and believed, and asked for healing, they would be healed… after all faith can move mountains… right? And, that just scratches the surface of pain and misfortune I faced almost on a daily basis. That may sound so harsh, and on the edge of unbelief, but I can tell you that not all sickness stems from sin, other than Adam’s sin… and not all prayers are answered as we want them, just because we pray in faith believing. We must be cautious about how we approach God. We come as a privilege to his throne, not as demanding servants who bring a wish-list and expect that list to be filled. We, who are the servants of God, understand the mystery of His will, only as He allows us to see it… just like everyone else. God is not Santa Claus nor is He Walt Disney who grants wishes because we have written him a letter (prayed) or wished upon some star. I have written before of Christ’s plea in the garden, just before His arrest. That was a believer’s prayer! He received what was needed, not what he desired, in the human context of his prayer.

I got my sword… a wish come true. I met the woman of my dreams… bingo! God allowed me to attain an Electrical license, that happens to serve me well to this day! My prayer was, “God allow me to become an electrician and I will go where you want me to go!” (And so I went, even to India on 4 different occasions in service for Him.) Well… I got it partially right anyhow. Out of electrical work and into ministry He sent me … kicking and screaming, for the first 5 years or so. Sometimes we get what we want with added codicils. Now, 30 years or so later, I am coasting through my retirement years, clinging to the hope that financial burdens of home ownership, and standard maintenance, will not shove us too close to the edge. Who am I kidding? That is standard fair for everyone these days! LOL  

So? How about those Christmas dreams? Mine include family gathered, time to laugh, a meal shared and most of all love, that binds us together, no matter the size or intrinsic worth of what those Christmas wrappings enfold. Quite like the Christmas fever, that we pay homage to in a commercial sense, daily life can spring some surprises on us from time to time. A turn of the tide, a fork in the road, or even a flat tire can change the planed design of your day and cause either deep heartache or bring a rich blessing. A poet  by the name of Robert Frost once wrote of the road less taken; it can bring meaning to life, as we plan ahead, and I want to share the last verse with you today, as you consider the theme I bring forward.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

While planning life, I find myself in my latter years more able to let go of what I thought should happen, and the fears of what could happen, and I cling to the promise that no matter what does happen, I am loved. For me, this has made all the difference; you might say it is the only instance where I could be assured that I really got what I wanted. I have given my wife and family every reason in the past, to really dislike me on many levels. I have been absent when I should  have been present, and I let my work take the place of the relationships that were most important to me, as I strived after what I thought was the Master’s calling on my life. But, He also called me to be a good, present husband, and father to my children. I was reminded of my remiss early enough to make some changes, but the continued pressures of work and the stresses of ministry did take its toll. Am I sad? Yes, sometimes more than I need to be perhaps. Am I ashamed? Yes, more than most will ever know. Yet God is not only good, He is great! As you look down the road toward the future, measure what you want over and against what you need, and be careful not to put all your eggs in the basket of guaranteed assurances… You don’t always get what you want! Maybe you need to look to the right "Star" and hang your future on it! That is living near the edge!


  1. So enjoyed this read....You shared beautifully some of the same thoughts and sentiments I have had over the years as I reflected on Christmas looking back over the past. I am always thankful for His Love and forgiveness and His hand on my life. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you Ruth... My joy is found in being able to both remember and relive, as I write. Though the years may fade some things, the presence of Christ's walk with me, during the good and the bad, has as you said, made me thankful that He has had His hand on my life. Blessings to you and yours in the coming year!