These recent weeks have been filled with shopping, seasonal music, pageants, programs, Christmas goodies, cantatas, lights, trees, decorations, special parties and meals. Thinking about family traditions of the season, complete this thought: "It just would not be Christmas without ..."
Presents. Based on the time we spend shopping and wrapping, and the register in the checkbook, this is a huge part of the Christmas celebration. At some point in life we make the transition to finding more pleasure in the giving than in the receiving. Either way, the gift exchange is crucial.
Music. Christmas songs have a way of lifting our spirits and putting a smile on our faces. From the sentimental "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" to the hilarity of "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy," song writers have collectively expressed the desires of our hearts and the merriment of the season.
Christmas Tree. For most of us, Christmas morning is centered around the tree, covered with lights and ornaments and special decorations. Beautifully wrapped presents find their place beneath it. Until that time, we enjoy moments of gazing at the twinkling lights in anticipation of what is to come. Such as it was, even Charlie Brown just had to have a tree.
Foods and sweets. I remember my grandmother's annual baking of her Christmas divinity and her delicious chocolate fudge; what a treat. Will you enjoy the traditional Christmas ham again this year? My choice never reaches the table, but those Italian Christmas trees always sound good to me (pepperoni pizza slices!)
My dad always enjoyed giving 'gag' gifts at Christmas, and blaming it on "St. Nick" or "The Jolly Fat Guy," or "Santa." We have tried to continue the tradition, but Christmas somehow is not quite the same without my dad and his pranks. Oh, how he loved the Christmas season!
In reality, however, it is Christmas even though dad is no longer with us. Believe it or not, we can have Christmas without the music, and the presents, and the festive decorations, and the goodies, and the gags. The reason it is Christmas is because Jesus was born. God chose to lay aside His "God-ness" and take the form of a servant, teaching mankind how to love.
He still comes into our crowded, frustrated, confused, world that is bent toward egotistical living, selfish motives, and ungodly intentions. He still chooses to live right in the midst of the messes and crises and fears of your life, guiding your steps and thoughts to the extent that you allow Him to do so.
I remember times of my childhood that we would tear open the gifts in a matter of only a few minutes, and then I would sit back and briefly experience the empty feeling that comes when I realized that the anticipation far outweighed the gifting. I did not realize at such a young age the reason for such a let down, and I quickly ignored it and began playing with the presents and calling friends on the phone to see what they received for Christmas. Looking back, however, I know the reason for the emptiness: there is one place in each of us that only Jesus can fill.
Far too many people will awaken on Christmas morning and attempt to have Christmas without Jesus. They may find temporary satisfaction, and a passing form of happiness; but He is the one who makes Christmas real. In Christ is lasting joy and peace. It just would not be Christmas without Him!
Steven Callis is the minister at First Church of the Nazarene in Douglasville.