I love Christmas!
Growing up on the farm, the cows still needed milking twice a day and the pigs had to be fed. With few exceptions, the celebration of Christ’s birth wasn’t much different from any other day. Mother usually made a special dinner with a fruit cake or a fruit cobbler. She read the Christmas story from Luke while we gathered around a scraggly long-needled pine tree cut from our own land. The tree had a string of lights, a few paper ornaments, a tinfoil star, and a rope of beat-up silver garland. A handful of reused tinsel made the branches shine.
In our early Christmases, my sister and I treasured the dolls and new dresses our Aunt Marie brought us. My playmate on the adjoining farm had an Aunt Bobbie that I considered rich. She brought toys for her nephew and often included a small toy or doll for my sister and me. When our aunt had a son of her own to dote on, Daddy took over as Santa Claus. With little money, my parents struggled to make sure we had at least one present under the tree. One year, Daddy found a discarded wagon which he repaired and painted red. Another year, an abandoned bicycle became a precious gift. The North Pole elves were never so creative.
When I married at the age of nineteen, my husband introduced me to a Christmas I’d only read about in books. My frugal Charlie traveled all over Arlington, Virginia that first Christmas, searching for the perfect tree with the perfect price tag. And since we had to wait for Santa’s Elves to decorate on Christmas Eve, he usually came home with a bargain.
Of course, Charlie insisted the decorations must be perfect. The garland surrounded the tree parallel to the row above. The fancy store-bought ornaments were carefully hung. No two colors could be placed together. The tinsel wasn’t thrown on the tree in clumps, but each strand placed individually to achieve the “right” effect.
My husband wanted our first Christmas together to be special. We had spent hours shopping for gifts which were beautifully wrapped and stacked under a tree groaning with ornaments, tinsel and garland. A Christmas movie played on the television in the background. As I gazed at the tree we’d decorated together, light reflected off the ornaments into eyes shining with love–love for my new husband and love for Christmas.
Our second Christmas, I was heavy with our first child and exhausted by two o’clock on Christmas morning when we finished decorating the tree. A few years later when our second child celebrated his first Christmas, the presents no longer fit under the tree but spilled out into the room. Push toys evolved into tricycles which later became bicycles and even later, snow skis, jewelry and electronics.
I had grudgingly accepted yet another of the Renalds’ family traditions. The presents must remain under the tree until after every relative came for their yearly visits. We were expected to return the gesture by visiting the aunts and uncles and viewing their family’s abundance of gifts. Every year seemed grander and more elaborate while the elves grew more weary of the ordeal.
Realizing this madness of waiting until the last minute wasn’t a tradition in other families, I longed for the simpler celebration of my childhood. I loved the tree, but I wanted to enjoy it longer than the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I ached with exhaustion by the time we arrived at his parents’ home for the festive meal. After a few years, some of my husband’s family traditions gradually slipped away in favor of a more relaxed celebration. The families grew in number, older members passed away and the visits diminished along with the number of presents under the trees.
As I grew spiritually, the birth of Christ took on new meaning. The tree lights represented the Light of Christ that came to brighten the darkness. The presents reminded me that God gave us the greatest gift of all–his only begotten son. The small nativity spoke of God becoming man, entering as a baby into a world he had created. The carols herald his birth.
When our children were teenagers, we began attending a church within the Anglican communion. I had never followed the Christian calendar, nor did I understand the meaning of Advent. But the more I learned, the preparation for Christmas became more than decorating my home, buying gifts and baking cookies. My heart longed for a time of personal preparation.
The house had been decorated early and ready to receive guests, but what about my heart? Was I prepared to welcome the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Creator of the Universe, the Savior of the World? Or, were there places in my heart that I had barred his entrance? Was I holding on to resentment, envy, jealousy or pride? Although I might be ready to celebrate his birth, I needed to prepare for him. Was I ready for his second coming?
In 1870 English poet, Christina Georgina Rossetti, pinned “In the Bleak Midwinter.” During my childhood, I remember turning to the page in my family’s large Bible and reading the last stanza of her poem. The picture represented a child with a lamb in his arms.
What can I give Him, Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb, If I were a wise man I would do my part, Yet what can I give Him, Give my heart.
For every Christmas as far back as I can remember, I wanted more than anything to make Jesus Lord of my heart. For me, Advent has become a time of reflection, clearing out the dregs of sin and opening my heart to the Savior.
Join me in preparing our hearts to welcome the One who loved us more than his heavenly throne. He entered our world and became one of us. By his life, he demonstrated an example of God’s perfect love for the world. He became the sacrificial Lamb of God who died so that we could have eternal life. Let Him fill you with His presence this Christmas and shine His light through you to those who need the love of a Savior.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a pure heart!