I want to start by saying that I am an enormous fan of Christmas music. Sacred or secular, I love it all. But they started playing Christmas music this year shortly after the fourth of July. Even for me, that is going a bit too far. Or a lot too far. The main problem with this, aside from its crass emphasis on trying to separate you from your money, is that starting the music so early makes it somehow less special. It is hard to focus on the words to Silent Night when you have heard it 73 times before Labor Day. So what begins as a lovely reminder of the season quickly fades into nothing but background noise.
But every once in a while, at an unexpected moment, the fog of life clears, and you find yourself listening to the words. I was driving home from a long day of work and shopping, in my own little world, concentrating on my own problems. Without realizing it, I found myself listening to the song “Where are you Christmas? “
I had heard it 327 times already this year, but for some reason I found myself paying attention to the words. “Where are you Christmas, why can’t I find you, why have you gone away? My world is changing, I’m rearranging, Does that mean Christmas changes too?” Does that mean Christmas changes too? This started my thinking about MY Christmases; how they used to be and how they in fact have changed.
I recall as a young child that Christmas was about Santa and presents and, as I was an only child and the only grandchild, being the center of attention. I rather liked that. The first time Christmas changed for me was when I was 6. My grandmother died at Thanksgiving time, the first time that I had any experience of death. Christmas was not going to be the same after that. Later that year, my mother gave birth to my baby brother, on December 22, and Christmas changed again.
Fast forward and I am in college for my first year, all by myself and homesick. Christmas was very different that year, with none of the preparations and traditions I had taken for granted as a youngster. So, after feeling sorry for myself for a bit, I took the bus to Kmart and bought a tiny tree and a cassette tape of Bing Crosby. Setting up this Charlie Brown tree in my dorm room, listening to White Christmas, I started to feel better and realized that I was now creating my own Christmas traditions.
When Jen and I were married, Christmas changed again. For the first time in my life I didn’t wake up in my parent’s home. We now had two families, with two different sets of traditions, and each wanted their traditions to stay the same. Each family expected us to take part in their traditions, and we had to find a way to mediate the differences and act as agents of change. Neither family got exactly what they wanted, but all had to adapt to a new reality that included changes in Christmas from that point on.
We had our first son, and that changed Christmas again, in many, many ways. We now found ourselves in the position of establishing traditions for our own family, both as keepers of the past, and looking forward into the future. Two more sons followed over the years, and we evolved our own set of family traditions, some that incorporated our larger family, some that were only for us.
Then our sons grew up and left for college too. Christmas changed again when one of them could not come home, so we went to him. Our first Christmas in a hotel room was unusual, but lovely in its own special way. Over the years, we have celebrated Christmas in my parents’ house, in Jen’s parents’ house, in a hotel room, in a church basement, in a rented house in Florida, and one memorable time in a closed restaurant where my brother worked that we took over with the owner’s permission.
As I think about it, Christmas has been changing all of my life. Life moves on, people come into and leave our lives, and the world keeps on turning. Change is a constant; even when we don’t want it to be.
For some people change comes rather easy; while others meet change kicking and screaming. If you are one of the former, then you are comfortable with the idea of Christmas changing. You can listen to the song and answer, “Yes, Christmas DOES change, and all will be well.” But if you are one of the people who is uncomfortable with change, perhaps this will help.
Our Christmas celebrations change. The people we celebrate with change. We go to different places, we eat different foods, but there is one thing that does NOT change. That God sent his only son into the world in the mostly lowly fashion to become one of us and save us from ourselves. This infant Jesus who we celebrate today is the one thing that does not change, in fact has never changed. Jesus is eternal. He has always been, is now, and will always be part of our triune God. As John tells us in the beginning of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
The word that John so eloquently describes is Jesus. Jesus was with God at the creation of the world; indeed, the world was created through him as all things came into being through him. This Jesus, born today as a tiny baby in a humble cattle stall is none other than the eternal God, who loves us so much that he choose to dwell among us. Our light in the darkness; the light of all people.
Our Christmases will change. People we love will not be with us, we may find ourselves in unfamiliar places. But Christmas has been the same for 2,000 years. It is not about HOW we celebrate, but about WHAT we celebrate. And it will always be.