Confession. . . .
I’m not exactly sure I like Christmas. Now, before you write me off and mail me a copy of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” you should know, it wasn’t always this way. When I was little, it was magical—full of twinkling lights, homemade gingerbread houses, and the taste of my Mom’s sugar cookie Christmas trees. The scent of pine, the rustle of wrapping paper, and the tinkle of silver bells was enough to permanently glue a smile to my face.
Then came one October fifteen years ago, the first anniversary of the day that the Lord stopped me from taking my own life. Standing there with my fist in the air, ready to drown myself in the lake before me, the wind had suddenly rushed like a torrent through the pine trees, carrying red and gold leaves I’d somehow failed to notice before. In that moment, the hand of the Lord pushed me away from the lake.
On that first anniversary of that day by the lake, the mere sight of a pine cone and the flurried dance of brightly colored leaves through the air was enough to bring me to grateful tears. For a solid month, my heart was in my throat and my eyes brimmed with tears—happy tears, from a heart that was undone at what Christ had done for it. Every time the wind would hit my face, just as it had done that October day when the Lord pushed me away from the lake, something in me would stir. For the wind suddenly meant something other than bad hair days—it was a whisper of what was done for me, a reminder that had the Lord not stepped in, my life would have told a very different story.
And then, as quickly as it had come, Fall was gone. Snow dusted the rooftops as the wind carried the chill of winter and, before I knew it, Christmas had come and gone. It was not until the day after Christmas that I woke up in my parent’s guest room with a stark realization:
Christmas was just a story to me.
For if it was my story, if it meant something to me, then it wouldn’t have been merely the gluten free gingersnaps, the mysteriously wrapped presents, my sister’s flawless Christmas decorations, the endless playing of Louis Armstrong’s “Cool Yule,” or my discovery of coconut milk eggnog, that plastered a smile on my face. I was captivated by the wrong story. It needed the dancing lights and the stockings. It needed the presents and the 10ft tall Christmas tree. It need something else.
Because it was just a story.
THE COOKIE CONUNDRUM
Here’s my dilemma: We were never commanded to celebrate Christmas. We chose this. And I really do believe we chose to celebrate the birth of Christ because we want to worship. We want to celebrate. We want to remember what was done for us. We want Christmas to be more than just a story to us.
But we’ve packaged Christmas up like my favorite meal—dessert. It has no nutritional value and may even be bad for us, but for most of us, it’s our favorite part.
Try and imagine teaching a toddler the importance of nutrition. With a mixture of grave ceremony and over-enthusiasm, you present the green leafy vegetables, the grains and the fruits, and explain to them why this, this right here, is sooooo important for them to grow up strong and healthy.
“These carrots are going to keep you from going BLIND. Don’t eat them and we are buying you glasses. See this spinach here?! It will save your life. And remember Grandpa Moses? Remember how we had to put him in ‘the home.’ He never drank his milk.”
At the mention of Grandpa Moses, fear replaces the stricken look that accompanied the “Spinach will save your life” spiel and you feel encouraged that the importance of good nutrition must be sinking in. Once you’ve finished the rehearsed routine, and have successfully kept the kid in the chair for all of three minutes, you present a cookie with a flourish. Their little eyes grow wide. Slowly you set down the cookie beside their plate and explain that they can have this ONLY when they finish their meal, because their meal, after all, is what helps them grow up big and strong, not the cookie. The cookie is just their reward. Suddenly, the confusion at all the healthy mumbo jumbo that had caused their eyes to glaze over is replaced by a gleam of determination. With one eye on the prize, they shovel their food in for a single purpose: dessert.
I am and will probably forever be a dessert first kind of person. I may not have the courage to order it first, but you can be sure that, on the rare occasion I happen to be at a place that serves a dessert I can actually eat, I am eating the main course only for the sake of decorum. Unfortunately, despite the best of intentions, that’s what Christmas has turned into for me. For if I talked about that manger in Bethlehem at all last Christmas—and I’m pretty sure I didn’t—it was just decorum. Of course that was never my heart or my intention, but it all got blurred in a haze of tinsel and bows, apple cider and stockings, and a brand new toaster oven. Maybe it’s my ADHD, but somebody tell me how I’m supposed to take to heart, to really focus on the meaning of Christmas, to grasp this “story” that changed the world, when it’s buried underneath all these beautiful things?
Yet, it’s those things that I remember about last Christmas—gift cards and my digital display toaster oven with a pizza pan and a grill rack and nine different settings. I use the thing every single day. But not once has its cheerful beeping reminded me of the baby Jesus. Not once did its shiny silver casing bend my knees or make my heart break in wonder at what was done for me. Not once did it help me understand what for so long was just a story to me. Not once did it help me enjoy my meal. It was all just . . . cookies.
But this Christmas, maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t have to be the same. Since I’m pretty much out of luck when it comes to talking my family into not doing presents (My Mom LOVES to give gifts! Telling her not to give me a gift basically equates to asking her not to love me.), I’m going to have to figure out how to do Christmas and the cookies.
So here’s my proposal: what if my heart was so wrapped up in the wonder of what was done for me that Christmas so long ago, that the mere sight of the “cookies” handed to me this Christmas would flip my calloused heart for years to come? Kind of like those little mementoes that we keep from when we first fall in love—things that take our hearts back to those priceless moments?
What if the birth of Christ and the wonder of it was so real to me, that the presents handed to me this Christmas would be like those keepsakes—powerful reminders of the story that has become anything but just a story to me this Christmas season. Now that would be a Merry Christmas indeed.