There is a line in Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” that has been winging its way around my mind the past few weeks. As Christmas has stolen ever closer, and I find myself less and less prepared for it with every day, the conversation between Scrooge and his nephew Fred has replayed itself in my psyche.
Usually in the voices of George C. Scott and Roger Rees.
“Nephew!” returned the uncle, sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”
“Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.”
“Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!”
The words “Let me leave it alone, then” have gotten louder and louder as the desire to drive to see lights, find perfect gifts, make treats, and enjoy the usual Christmas revelry has vied with chores, business planning and its inherent anxiety for my attention and time.
The goal to “Keep it Simple!” has at random moments almost been replaced by a Scrooge-like attitude of “Let me leave it alone.”
I said almost because nothing can quite dim the beauty of Christmas for me. No heavy workload, stress, or busy schedule can take away the true meaning of Christmas for me. The Spirit of Christ is a constant in my life and thank God for it. Every day of my life I am thankful for that spirit and the depth and beauty that it brings me.
But I just haven’t been able to dive into the Christmas-y part of Christmas.
the treat plates
the walking around in the the rain singing carols at people’s doors
the searching for gifts
THAT Christmas-y part of Christmas.
And I have no reason to not enjoy those things. Everyone is busy these days, so that’s no excuse. Lot’s of people run a business and still manage to maintain the Christmas spirit. I already have a tree and lights, I even decorated the dang thing. My daughter wrapped up gifts to put underneath it and I truly loved to see it.
But I loved it because of her sweetness, it had nothing to do with Christmas.
I’ve even tried telling myself that if I would just “do” the Christmas-y things then I would “feel” that Christmas-y feeling.
But it hasn’t worked yet.
Or it hadn’t worked…until last night.
I went to a church yesterday evening to see a large collection of nativity scenes.
Seriously large, like hundreds of them.
And to hear a family I know and love perform Christmas carols for the people who walked through to see them.
I listened to the music, I saw the many, many representations of the Savior’s birth on display. I walked through the rooms that had been decorated to represent what a night in Bethlehem would have been like at the time of Jesus’ birth. I wandered through, just looking, not really feeling the same joy I typically feel at such events and sat down to listen to the Fox family sing.
Apparently the ghost of Christmas long past waits for you to sit down before she comes creeping up.
Perhaps stillness is a requirement to feeling her presence.
Whatever the reason, I didn’t move fast enough after my friends finished singing and I was caught in the position of having to listen to the next performer or seeming very rude by leaving.
He was a pianist, and a good one I might add, but I don’t remember his name. He played just a sweet musical hymn, and then he invited a young woman up to sing an original piece that he had composed while contemplating what kind of lullaby Mary would have sung to Jesus as he grew and had questions of his birth.
While I sat and listened, that ghost of Christmas long past seemed to sit down next to me and wrap her arm around my shoulder while whispering “come with me”.
And I imagined myself in that first Christmas, where there was no tree, no lights, no family but a man and his wife and their tiny gift from God, and no friends but a few strangers.
And then I found myself in a dusty Egyptian town where there were no corner carolers, no church choir performances, no songs wafting through the air from a radio, only a mothers songs to her son to help him know and love a homeland he had never seen.
And then I sat in a small room next to an old woman, her hands bent with age and labor gently stroking a box filled with precious things: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, while tears slowly streamed down her face.
And it struck me. That there were few “perfect” Christmas memories surrounding the most perfect life ever lived.
After that night of nights, there was homelessness, fear, and sorrow for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. After that day of days when the Resurrected Lord came to show that death is not the end, there was still sadness because He wasn’t there to hold.
For all the knowledge that the gospel of Christ brings of salvation and redemption what mother wouldn’t weep for the separation?
I thought of that precious mother and my gratitude for her willingness to be a “handmaid” of the Lord increased.
I thought of that humble father and my respect for his humility deepened.
I thought of the Son of God, the Redeemer of mankind, the Savior of the world and my love for Him increased.
And that feeling of discontent has left me. The desire to “let Christmas alone” is gone.
I’m not worried about whether or not I manage to find the Christmas stockings before Christmas Eve. I have no idea which moving box they are in, I’m pretty sure I won’t find it by then. We’ll probably put our shoes out in a row instead…and I’m comfortable with that.
I’m not concerned with my inability to dive into the “perfect” Christmas.
I’m not going to kick myself for not having as much time to bake treats.
Because those things aren’t really Christmas.
They are my traditions, and I really like them. But they are not the heart of the season.
That gentle ghost of Christmas long past showed me something deeper and more poignant…the truth behind the traditions.
Christmas is bowing meekly to the will of God, and asking for strength to bear the burden.
Christmas is forgiving when offended, and withholding judgement from those who have wronged you.
Christmas is holding your family close, treasuring your time together, and sharing their life with others when they are gone.
Christmas is, and has ever been, about the love of God for the family of Man.
And that love isn’t bound by lights, fudge, or gift-wrap.
Those things, for many of us, are a representation of our love; and the act of sharing with one another builds relationships and deepens affection.
But even without them the Love of God can grow.
And so, though my time and ability to keep Christmas as I have in the past is limited this year my love for God, my family, my friends, and those I serve is not limited at all.
And I can agree with Fred Holywell completely when he said:
“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
Yes, God bless it, and keep it…and I shall keep it too.