My childhood memories of Christmas are treasured pictures of times precious yet contrasting to what we have become accustomed to in this 21st century. My folks lived in post-depression years and with five small children to feed and clothe, Christmas was family, some good food with what Mom could put a meal together (and she was at the top of her class in that department), and some few gifts including, and maybe most importantly, special Christmas candies that Grandma helped to get on her meager income. But it was a warm, welcomed day and as I grew a bit older, after Dad landed a job at John Deere with a regular, respectable living wage, the yuletide celebrations became more festive, with a fully decorated tree complete with brightly and beautifully wrapped packages beneath the once live boughs. We did not have many relatives living in Ottumwa where I grew up from five years of age until I left for college, an aunt and uncle, but we had each other, some friends and two grandmothers, only one of which was able to be with us for most Christmas days, and that only once in a while because of her age and travel limitations due to health. She would, however, always send a big box that arrived several days before Christmas, with individually wrapped gifts for each of us, along with some homemade candy (divinity was my favorite).
On Christmas Eve we would gather around the delightfully decorated tree and open gifts; then, while we were still young, we would go to bed waiting for an early morning stirring when we would scurry down the stairs from our unheated second story bedrooms (whatever heat would make it through a small vent in the kitchen is what heat we had in that southeastern Iowa town known back then for some pretty ice cold winters) with unbounding excitement hoping to receive some bigger, better special gift and we were never disappointed.
One Christmas that is etched forever in my memory is when, coming down the chilly steps from my bedroom, I was greeted in the living room with a bright, red bicycle! It was a dream bike and I had to wait some while before I could test ride it, but I loved it and eventually rode the wheels off it.
On another Christmas when I was six or seven years of age, I received a doll! Wait now, please, and withhold judgment until I explain. I never knew what motivated my parents to buy me a doll, but Joe (that’s the name I gave this half-life sized boy doll) and I became inseparable friends. I did not have any other neighborhood boys that were friends during those few years, so Joe and I became very close. In fact, it was Joe that suffered through some of my earliest preaching experiences. I would put two or three chairs up in a bedroom off the beaten path, and set Joe in one of them, often in the back row, and I would then conduct a “church service” while he always listened attentively. My text was most often Genesis 1:1 and I waxed as eloquent as a six-year-old could, not having had the benefit of a seminary training at that early age. My only convert, in those “closed circuit” services, was, you guessed it, Joe. So, Joe and I were buddies until his stuffing’s began to come out at the seams and not any too soon as I was out growing my need for his constant companionship.
So, we had some memorable Christmas days and wonderful times together until I was about 15 years of age. My dear mother, a serious student of history, began to read about what she perceived to be the origins of modern-day Christmas celebrations, and in time it became her conviction that it would be best to keep Christ out of Christmas, at least the way it had come to be kept. It became a conviction that she would staunchly stand upon for the last probably 40 years of her life, and without Mom in the Christmas “spirit” most all of the rest of us struggled to make the necessary adjustments to honor her convictions, so Christmas Day became pretty much just another day for the remainder of my years at home.
I had finally become accustomed to a “No Christmas” December 25 and then I met the love of my life Ellen. She grew up in a godly home and her father was a pastor and he and his household always enjoyed what was a Christ-honoring celebration of His birth. Their Christmas Days were not extravagant, but they were blessed times of singing carols and exchanging gifts and having a few treasured moments around the person of our Lord with family. So, when our first Christmas as a new family came for Ellen and myself, as we were living in Minneapolis where I attended Central Seminary, I had to somewhat struggle again to learn how to keep Christmas in a way that would accommodate her wishes to have a meaningful Christ-centered day. It took a few Christmases, but my patient helpmeet indulged my hesitations and reservations and brought me along to the place of once again enjoying an “old-fashioned” Christmas day, with all the trimmings. We, like many who may be reading this, are conflicted about the raw materialism that has for many years permeated so much of what is done at Christmas time now, but we continue to try to find meaningful ways of celebrating His miracle birth and first advent with joy, anticipation, exhilaration and godly humility and thanksgiving for His Unspeakable gift. We join together today in wishing you all a very blessed Christmas Day in whatever way you choose to commemorate it.
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it….” (Romans 14:5,6a)