While the snow that started around noon made for dicey driving to and from our family’s annual Christmas eve celebration, it also ensured a snowy Christmas day. Growing up here in the north, snow on Christmas added to the wonder of the holiday, unchanged for me even though I’m also now north of 60.
“Snow-geeked” Christmas morning, I clicked on the holiday lights then bundled up to clear snow from around the woodpile. A while later, I settled into the early morning lull with a fire roaring and fresh coffee in hand. Soon enough, everyone would awake to launch into Christmas day.
During my childhood, a Christmas eve snowfall might lure me away from ravioli dinner to press my nose to a window pane to scan the night skies for signs of a reindeer-drawn sleigh. While I would feign difficulty falling to sleep, I was long gone when “Santa” crept into my room to leave a stocking stuffed with surprises to hold me until mom and dad’s signal next morning to traipse down the stairs to check out presents gushing out for under our Christmas tree. But first, we always looked for telltale crumbs from the cookies and milk left for Santa the night before.
As I recall those memories, I’m grateful how mom and dad managed to build ceremonial moments into Christmas morning to gather around the manger scene to mark the baby Jesus’ birth. We carried that forward when raising our family.
Gradually I grew then eventually I knew the difference between the fantasy and the reality. Turns out the reality’s wonder bested the fantasy and we raised our own children in that wonder while respecting traditions fellow parents chose. Our children are now grown and gone but, thankfully, come home for Christmas.
We’ve really been “into” Christmas this year, launching into it all Thanksgiving weekend. We added to our outdoor display and got caught with my ornament project, gifts, greeting cards, church and various “convenings’ of the season.
We’re wearing out favorite Christmas CDs. One song in particular is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “I heard the bells on Christmas day,” written in 1864. Remakes on Christmas CDs by Casting Crowns and Steven Curtis Chapman are particularly good but my favorite is MercyMe’s version. [click and listen while reading on...]
Recall how it goes? The Christmas day bells herald a familiar refrain, “peace on Earth, good will to men.” The listener is initially bolstered by hearing the bells but later despairs as the reality and persistence of strife and hate on earth mocks the claim.
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
We Christians live in this tension that sometimes overwhelms and teases our faith. But as we meditate and persist with sound doctrine and counsel and prayer and obedience, God’s presence and power rises, rallying the refrain to a building crescendo.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead nor does He sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, good will to men
MercyMe’s ending stirs me,
Sometimes I think we’ve applied too much fake fairy dust to Christmas that needs no such treatment from the likes of us. Its wonder stands on its own. Nevertheless, at this moment, I want to stay in the stillness of Bethlehem for just a while longer before venturing back into the harsh realities of day to day life and ultimately, to the cross.
Beyond Bethlehem, Jesus’ real work beckons, where the world takes issue with what we believe and know to be true, that Jesus is indeed who he says he is. Nevertheless, I’m staying put today, basking in this moment of wonder and stillness.
Tomorrow will come soon enough.