Christmas always began with a thud when I was growing up. This happened several weeks before December 25, when the Sears Christmas Wish book arrived at our home. With great delight, my brother, sister and I welcomed this mail delivery, but as soon as the catalog arrived, the fighting began. We all wanted it and we wanted it that very instance. When we finally got the book, each of us would spend hours making a list (including catalog number and page number) of all the gifts we expected under the tree.
There were other things I enjoyed about Christmas – the twinkling lights, the gingerbread cookies and singing carols with my grammar school choir in various banks and department stores. I especially loved the smell of our church when the crèche was finally displayed. The Christmas stable was surrounded by evergreen boughs and their scent filled every corner of the church.
Though I grew up Catholic and the Christ Child was on display in my school, my church and my home, Christmas sadly was more about selfish pursuits than the child in the manger. I loved Christmas, but for all the wrong reasons. That little baby born on the first Christmas Day wasn’t just a small part of wonderful childhood memories, but the very thing that changed the world forever.
During my freshman year in high school, I began to reject that the success of Christmas depends on how many presents we receive, how many ornaments are on our tree or even how many cookies we consume. That seemed so shallow. It felt as if I were enjoying the gift wrapping more than the gift itself.
Jesus came quietly, slipping unnoticed into a little town. He arrived in the middle of the night, in the dark, but suddenly there was the Light among us. And this Light brought with Him hope. His newborn cry broke the silence that had lingered over the world for 400 years. And while most inhabitants of the world were asleep, the earth could not contain its joy. Angels appeared, the Christmas star illuminated the dark sky and I imagine even the animals in the stable knew something momentous had just happened.
The following day, folks went back to the hustle of their lives. They wouldn’t know the beauty and magic of Christmas for many years to come – not until Christ’s death on the cross, if even then. The birth announcement was there that morning, but to catch it, you had to care enough to watch for it. Most didn’t, staying blissfully unaware of the miracle in their midst. The day’s joy was swallowed up because they weren’t aware God arrived that night: “Here I am. Emmanuel. God with You.”
At 14 years old, I realized I didn’t want to be like the people that first Christmas day who let their activities overshadow God. It made more sense to celebrate Christmas by taking the time to be left breathless by the awe-inspiring work of God all around us – the endless treasures that come to us through Him. The hope Jesus brought – the ability to reconcile with God.
Now years later, I invite you to do the same during the transforming Christmas season: take some time to slow down, open your hands and your heart to the only One who can offer hope. This God who came to us as a baby in a manger takes broken, hopeless hearts and gives you His. Not just during Christmas, but always.
Myra Biernat Wells