Christmas Reflections

It’s late afternoon on Christmas Day 2023 and all is quiet in our house. The kids and grandkids will not be here for a few more days and in this stillness, I’m reflecting on the Christmases of my childhood. As I do a rush of youthful excitement fills my heart. As a young boy, the mere mention of the holidays stirred a magical anticipation within my siblings and me, a journey that began in September with the crafting of our Christmas wish lists. Some of you might remember the Sears Wish Book catalog which contained a treasure trove of the most sought-after toys (no Amazon, Black Friday, or Cyber Monday back then). This book became our guide as we flipped through its pages in eager expectation of what we would find. And after Thanksgiving, the arrival of weekly circulars from local stores flooded our young minds further with more gift ideas, intensifying the festive spirit that permeated December. I felt like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”!

There was the excitement of school Christmas programs, the aroma of freshly baked cookies, and decorating the Christmas tree with strings of popcorn and homemade ornaments – all still seemingly fresh in my mind. For our family, Christmas Eve was not like many of our neighbors who headed off to an evening church service or some caroling in the small town a few miles away. I remember my brothers and sisters sitting around trying to contain our excitement as we anticipated the surprises that would be unfolding in our living room come Christmas Day. It was an evening filled with speculation on what gifts we might receive and a restless anticipation that made sleep almost impossible.

Christmas morning arrived before the break of dawn, and our eager footsteps led us repeatedly to our parents' bedroom where each plea to get up was met with "Not yet," prolonging the suspense that hung in the air. Finally, the moment we longed for arrived, and we ventured into the living room, where the day unfolded in a flurry of unwrapping presents, exploring new toys, and reveling in the joy of the season.

As I began my high school years, I became aware of a subtle shift in how I felt about Christmas. It was a sense of disillusionment leading me to what you might call the Christmas letdown. Don’t get me wrong - I still experienced the excitement and anticipation of the days leading up to Christmas and I still do, but also a sense that something was missing began to creep in. Reaching adulthood brought me to an understanding that it was the contrast between the expectations I had nurtured and the reality I encountered. A longing for something more than presents and the temporary feeling that the holidays offered. I needed something this world couldn’t provide.

Perhaps you have encountered a similar sentiment, maybe not exclusive to Christmas but woven into your life experiences. It’s clear that in this imperfect world, our deepest longings and dreams are seldom fully satisfied. Whether pursuing a dream career, navigating the complexities of marriage and children, or achieving worldly success, the yearning for something more remains a constant companion.

I came to understand that this dissatisfaction is rooted in the brokenness of our world. Even if we lived in a world that felt like childhood Christmas every day, a longing for more would persist. To paraphrase Augustine, we were made for God, and until we see Him face-to-face, a restlessness will endure within us. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 8:18-25, speaks of an inward groaning, a deep yearning for the restoration of all things. It echoes in our hearts—the knowledge that we were created for a reality beyond what even the best things the temporal world can offer.

In this universal yearning, the Christian finds solace and hope. Gratitude fills our hearts as we recognize that, in Christ, something more and better is guaranteed. A day is approaching when our faith will be transformed into sight, when the finite will touch infinity in the presence of our infinite Creator. On that day, dissatisfaction and the echoes of the Christmas letdown will be no more. For the believer, the best is genuinely yet to come.

I hope you were able to celebrate the birth of Christ and experience the joy of the holiday season.  But after Christmas this year, don’t give in to the idea that it’s over. Don’t give in to the thought that Christmas didn’t meet your expectations. Remember that Christmas isn’t meant to meet your expectations, it is meant to raise them. Christmas is just the beginning of the hope that is raised anew and will never have to be packed away again.

As we move past Christmas Day, let’s fix our gaze not only on the tangible joys of the present but on the promise that transcends the temporal. In Christ, we find the assurance that our deepest longings will find fulfillment, not in fleeting moments but in the eternal embrace of our Savior. I love the memories of my childhood Christmas, yet they pale in comparison to the anticipation of that glorious day when we will experience the fullness of joy that comes from being forever in the presence of our Redeemer.

Credit: Ron Kelley

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