We wandered around the tree farm with a savvy seven year old sales rep helping us choose a Frasier fir to take home and decorate in our living room. And it’s our year of the perfect Christmas tree.
Except for the melody of the windchimes on the porch and the harmonizing snores coming from the next room, there’s a sacred hush this midnight hour with the pooch at my feet. And I savor the holy moment. The twinkling white lights wrapped around the towering trunk mesmorize, but it’s the Little People nativity set lovingly arranged by “the baby” and placed front and center on the tree skirt, that’s where my gaze rests. Because once the pretty packages are all ripped open, the real gift of Christmas is still the birth of Jesus.
And every Christian family personalizes that birthday celebration with their own set of traditions.
We started ours the Christmas our “big girl” turned two. Together, we baked a homemade birthday cake and hosted a party for Him. The illusive became tangible through the lens of childlike faith as we took Jesus to the park and had a play date. Then we came home, stripped out of our snowsuits and drank hot chocolate with bright pink cheeks. We colored pictures representing time, treasure and talents and wrapped them up in sparkly paper only to excitedly help Jesus rip them open moments later.
Traditions morph over time matching age and stage and a few decades later, we have a memory book full of images capturing the joy and delight of Jesus birthday celebrations every annum. There have been advent wreathes and Christmas concerts and cookie exchanges. Some years the girls donned angel costumes for divine delivery of homemade treats to shut ins and fire fighters. And we spent many a Christmas day singing and playing carols for the elderly and the homeless and serving dinner at local shelters. The nativity story came alive for the masses in our original puppetry production. And Jesus’ collection of single edition prints created by our amateur artists expanded exponentially over the years. Later, we started to save our coins all year long to gift Jesus with chickens and TB medication, Bibles and tuition. “When you do it for the least of these, you do it for me,” Jesus said. So, we huddled around the computer as Daddy transacted our purchases online. The activities varied with each passing year, but the birthday boy, Jesus, has always taken center stage of the festivities on December 25 and we’ve tried to give Him the gifts He likes best.
This year, I’ve been wondering what it would look like to lavish Jesus with what He wants most.
We’ll all be together on His birthday, a menagerie of adult people and a couple of teenagers too. All but one of us has jobs now. We can comfortably throw some bucks into a pot and gift Jesus with a cow or a goat or maybe contribute to a fresh water well. That would be easy. But somehow, easy feels cheap. And God’s not a cheapskate and He doesn’t seem like a big fan of easy either. At least that’s my conclusion after reading through the gospels. Christmas cost God everything and ultimately His plan was so hard, the Son submissively pleaded with the Father to pursue another way, a plan B if it was possible. But it wasn’t.
And I wonder if maybe the greatest gift we could give Jesus is to pay forward the gift He already gave us—unconditional love wrapped inside of sacrificial grace.
And maybe the best place to practice that would be in the context of our family.
We’ve taken some significant relational hits this year. Truth be told, maybe it’s been more like a jarring handful of years, or even a bumpy decade, and for some of us a rough quarter of a century plus a few.
And honestly, what else could we expect?
Far as the curse is found, we’re all busted up image bearers.
Each of us wants to be trusted, respected, heard and accepted but we aren’t so eager to reciprocate the favor.
And not only are we severally anemic about loving the ones God placed up close and personal in our story, the whole wide world is hemorrhaging from racism and terrorism, war and violence and there really isn’t anything new under the sun. Just like the folks two thousand plus years ago, we all desperately need a Savior.
Next to Lent, the most somber season on the liturgical Christian calendar is Advent. Advent is about waiting and hoping. Especially during those four weeks of December leading up to the 25th, that persistent ache of our fallenness groans for fixing, healing, relief. Like a mother breathing through the pain of each contraction but focused on her goal, we wait in anticipation for God to do what He promised–to rescue us from ourselves and the heavy burden of sin we carry on our tired shoulders. And every Christmas morning, we celebrate that because of Jesus birth there is hope for peace on earth and good will toward men and women and children of every race, socio-economic status, political persuasion and religious affiliation. There’s even hope for peace and good will in our own little tribe of 6.
And I wonder what it would be like for us to intentionally love each other wholeheartedly as we wait for the unlovely things about the other to be transformed?
And what if we were more passionate about a personal makeover and less scrutinizing of the superficial imperfections of our sisters or daughters or parents?
What would it cost to relinquish our own interpretations of reality and make allowance for someone else’s perspective?
A lot more than a cow or a goat, that’s for sure.
We’d have to stand down from our determination to be right and acknowledge when we’re wrong.
We’d have to say “I’m sorry.” Often.
And we’d have to forgive.
We’d have to let go of our pride,
And our anger,
And our demands.
And embrace the healing properties of serving,
And laughing with each other and at ourselves.
This Christmas, here’s the gift I want to give Jesus.
I want to lean into His miracle of metamorphosis in me,
To embrace the hope that He’s transforming my peeps too,
And commit to love them graciously regardless –where they’re at, no strings attached- trusting His fresh mercies, new each morning are always enough.
Happy Birthday, dear Jesus. Happy Birthday to You!