By Becky Shields
When you think back on Christmas’ past, what is it that you remember most? Is it the gifts that you received? The money that you spent? The meals that you ate? Do you remember exactly what you bought each person on your list, or how long it took you to decorate your house? Or do your memories center on something different?
If you’re anything like me, other than a very few extra special gifts, you probably can’t recall very many of the material things that you received for Christmas over the years. My fondest Christmas memories revolve around family…. spending time with the people that I loved the most.
When I was a little girl, I can remember racing down the stairs to see how our home had transformed overnight. You see, for us, Christmas did not arrive until December 25th. We would fall asleep on Christmas Eve in our regular house and wake up to a magical Christmas wonderland. Daddy would bring the tree in from outside and decorate it while mom filled the house with the perfect Christmas touches. She would spray fake snow on the windows, set up the Nativity scene, and finish up the last of her gift wrapping. Together, they would pile the presents under the tree, set up anything that needed to be set up, and eat the milk and cookies that we had left for Santa. Their last act of the night was to sneak into our bedrooms and gently place our brand-new Christmas pajamas on the ends of our beds for us to find as soon as we awoke. Finally, they would collapse around 4 or 5 am only to be awakened by six sets of little pounding feet an hour or so later.
We would fly down the steps of our old farmhouse and wait (not so patiently) as Mom made coffee and put the Country ham in the oven for Christmas dinner .Next, we all gathered around Daddy as he read the Christmas story from the Bible. Although eager to open our gifts, we all treasured this time of quiet reflection where our focus was completely on the reason that we celebrated the day. We talked about Jesus and why God had sent him. We prayed, thanking Him for coming to earth as a baby so that we could one day be a part of his family.
The day got crazy from that point on. We would open presents, eat breakfast, and rush to clean the house and complete last-minute dinner preparations in anticipation of the guests who would be arriving in the afternoon. If I close my eyes, I can still picture those days perfectly. Christmas looked like my beautiful mom with her tired eyes smiling in her bathrobe as she drank her coffee and watched us from the sofa. It looked like my handsome Daddy, sitting in his recliner with at least 2 little ones on his lap at all times. It looked like the hodge-podge of ornaments on the Christmas tree. Many homemade and some priceless treasures that had been collected over the years. Heirlooms that had been passed down for generations.
Christmas was the sound of laughter and noise as we tore into colorful paper and discovered the hidden treasures that had been so lovingly shopped for and beautifully wrapped.
Christmas smelled like ham, and pies, and turkey, and sauerkraut. It smelled like my Pop-pop’s favorite pipe tobacco and my Grandmother’s expensive perfume. As my sisters and I grew older, it also smelled like hairspray and cosmetics as we spent painstaking hours making ourselves look beautiful for our expected guests. Christmas tasted like my Aunt’s delicious Cranberry bread and Gram’s secret mushroom recipe. Like Mom’s anise cookies and lemon meringue pie.
Christmas felt like the great big warm hugs of those who we loved most in the world. Our grandparents, great grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, friends, the Pastor of our church….all were welcome at our celebration and we all agreed that the more who came, the merrier. It was the very best day of the entire year and when it was over, we all began counting down the days until we could do it all over again. If you asked me today to name five gifts that I received in those years, I couldn’t do it. Even though I know that I was thrilled every year at what waited for me under the tree, my brain hasn’t kept a log of those things.
What I do remember vividly though is the people who were there every year. They were what mattered the most to me. I felt like the luckiest girl alive to spend Christmas with the family that God had given me, and I knew I was blessed to be the keeper of so many Christmas memories. As I’ve grown older, I have reflected on those early Christmases with gratitude. I realize more and more each year, what a gift I was given to be born into the family that I was born into. I also realize more and more what a gift it is to celebrate Christmas at all. We all have the privilege of celebrating Christmas with our families because, over two thousand years ago, God sent His only son to this earth so that we could be a part of His family.
Scripture tells us that, just as we keep our most special memories tucked closest to us, Mary also treasured her memories of the time that her first son was born. I imagine that she often reflected upon the day the angel Gabriel appeared to her with the life-changing announcement that she, a young, unmarried girl was going to give birth to God’s son. She remembered the joy that she and Elizabeth shared as they rejoiced over the children that they would both bring into the world. She thought back to the long arduous journey to Bethlehem. Heavy with child the young woman traveled on foot with her new husband to a city far from the comfort of her parent’s home. Her honeymoon consisted of days of walking on sore, tired, swollen feet. Back aching from the extra weight that she carried. She wouldn’t soon forget giving birth in a stable and lying her newborn babe in an animal’s feeding trough. Nor would she forget the radiant faces of the shepherds who raced to Bethlehem to see the baby whom the angels had told them had arrived.
Luke 2:19 tells us that Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. Mary’s memories weren’t triggered by Christmas parties or heirlooms that had been passed down from generation to generation. She had something far better. Mary had only to gaze into the eyes of her infant son and to know that she had given birth to the greatest gift ever given to mankind.
This Christmas will look very different for many of us. Our world has changed exponentially this year and many of us are mourning deep losses. Sometimes, its hard to find “Christmas Spirit” in-the-midst of all of the pain that surrounds us. Today, I pray that we will all remember the true meaning of this holiday. Remember that there is a God who loves you so much that He left His throne in Heaven just so that you could some day join him there. Remember that his birthday was not filled with fanfare or festivities. Instead, it was spent quietly, in a barn, with only a few shepherds and his parents to even acknowledge his birth.
If your Christmas is quieter than usual this year, know that He is with you. He is still the same God that he was last year and will continue to be the same next year. He is GOOD. And he loves YOU. So much so that he gave his life for you. Whatever 2021 brings our way, we can face it without fear because the tiny baby that we celebrate this Christmas is also the Maker of the Universe and he holds us all in the palm of His hand.
Feature Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash
Becky Shields has a passion for sharing Jesus with those in her life. She has been married to her best friend, Bill for 22 years and, with God’s help they are raising four amazing children. There are many things that can be said about Becky. Some good and some not so great. None of that matters in the long run though. The most important thing she wants anyone to know about her is that she is a sinner who has been saved by the extraordinarily generous grace of Jesus Christ. Anything that she has accomplished in her life is due to Him and she tries not to dwell on her failures because He has redeemed them all. Becky’s greatest desire is to live her life in such a way that people will want to know the Jesus she loves so much. Her prayer is that her writing will point them in that direction. Becky writes for her church newsletter monthly and as a recurrent guest on Straighten Your Crown. We are honored to have her.
Stand up, shake off the dust, straighten your crown, and walk forward confidently grounded in truth.