For whatever reason, Holidays have always left me with the most enduring memories. One year, with extended family all sitting round the table about to devour the blessed turkey, my mother inadvertently began grace by saying, “Bless me father, for I have sinned…”
This is the traditional start of making one’s confession to a priest, and while there were no clergy present at the time, all of us anxiously waited silently, more than willing to accept proximate ordination and stand in as substitutes.
Unfortunately, mom caught herself early, quickly diverting into the much more predictable, “Bless us O Lord, and these Thy gifts…” Thus, the banquet continued, a good deal less eventfully than it initially seemed to promise. The sweet potatoes were passed, and the turnip sat singularly unwanted until sufficient guilt was laid on those who eventually caved and took a portion.
Even so, over the years, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas has been increasingly promoted, and often seen, as a season of near hysteria. The pressures of preparation are commonly talked about in the community, with some expressing regret that these days are upon us once again. Alas, the moments set aside to extend gratitude and give glory to God have been refashioned into a commercial hassle; a juggernaut driven with no one at the wheel.
As Christians, whether as family or in friendship, when we commemorate the birth of the Savior, our job is to model an approach to Jesus, such that the Holiday we want is the celebration we create. Christmas is many things, none of which are consistent with overdrawn credit, and heaping burdens upon ourselves that we are unable to bear.
In the end, it seems my mom stumbled on the core truth. We have sinned. All of us. We’ve fallen from our trees and landed far apart from the Kingdom of God.
Every person, every season, we are reminded of our frailty and, try as we might, it becomes all too obvious that the Salvation we would attempt to supply from a store, while it can be paid for, cannot be sustained. Eventually toys break, batteries run out, and even our most hallowed memories are tinged with the reality that our loved ones are getting older, and we must release and let go of those who once held us so close and so tight.
Yet, however we might like to avoid them, if we look through them, life’s struggles actually bring us to the stable, indeed, a Savior, born in Bethlehem. Economically, spiritually and mortally, when we are willing to own what we cannot really provide, we become open to the wonder of what God in Christ has given.
This means that after all, Christmas is about gifts — grace, forgiveness, and eternal life, healing the brokenness that always attends our way. It’s the arrival of a Presence in our lives, not presents under a tree. And when parents and people keep proper perspective about the arrival and action of God in the world, then the gifts in the home will always make sense.
We have sinned, and fallen short, for sure, but just as definitively, it’s great to know and celebrate the foundational faith, and the fact, that forever in Christ, we have a Savior!