8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them,“”Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” – Luke 2:8-14
Whereas most kids love Christmas day, my kids don’t. It’s an unexpected, and in many ways wonderful, result of a decision my wife and I made 15 years ago. When we first arrived at BelPres, we decided that in December I would dramatically reduce the number of evening meetings I attended to allow for more family time during the Christmas season. That decision led to the question, what should
we do with the extra time? We decided we would create a variety of activities that we would do every year – drive around looking at Christmas lights, Snowflake Lane, take my daughters to the Nutcracker (my son was nevern interested in that one), drink hot chocolate and eat Christmas cookies by the fire while watching Christmas movies. At the time my kids were toddlers, but as they grew we added other traditions like a day spent in downtown Seattle to shop, look at the Gingerbread house display, and visit the Pike Place Market.
We thought that as they grew they would gradually be less interested in some of these traditions, particularly watching the Christmas movies. After all, how many times can you watch A Charlie Brown Christmas? But we gradually added other movies like Elf, Scrooged, Christmas
Vacation. Granted as they became teenagers they watched these movies not so much with childlike wonder but instead watched with a fair amount of goodnatured mocking, but even then there were still some moving moments. They would probably never admit it, but the end of It’s A Wonderful Life chokes us all up just a little, no matter how many times we watch it.
There was one other tradition we started. Since I am at the church from about 3:30pm until almost 1am on Christmas Eve, my family would spend that night with family friends I have known for 30 years. When I graduated from college, I worked as an intern at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. As part of the compensation, I lived with a family that entire year. Their kids were little when I moved in, and I became so attached to that family, that I lived with them for ten summers after that until I married Christina. They became surrogate parents to me as well as valued mentors, and I had the privilege of watching their kids grow up. So every Christmas Eve while I am at the church, my family spends the night with them.
Whereas most kids love Christmas day, my kids don’t.
This brings me to the reason my kids don’t much like Christmas day. They don’t like it, because it means all of that activity comes to an end. They enjoy getting together with our extended families and having grandparents and cousins around them, but other than that, they know they have to wait another year for all those Christmas traditions to begin again.
But that is a good thing. The unintended result of that one single decision we made 15 years ago is that Christmas for my kids has never been about the presents, or getting anything. It’s always been about family and being together and celebrating Jesus’ birth not just on one day but for an entire month. It’s about meaning and memory and taking time out of the ordinary routine to celebrate the extraordinarily good news that our God came to us himself in the person of Jesus (Luke 2:8-14).
The unintended result of that one single decision we made 15 years ago is that Christmas for my kids has never been about the presents, or getting anything.
It also is a reminder that Christmas itself is surprising, unexpected, and had long reaching results nobody could have predicted that night in the stable in Bethlehem. Just like we were surprised by the results our one decision years ago would have, so too were people surprised that this baby in a manger would change the world. In retrospect, I think we could have foreseen some of the wonderful results that would come from our decision that I would be home most nights in December, but still, we were surprised. In the same way, most things about Jesus birth, life, death, and resurrection had been predicted quite clearly by the prophets in the Old Testament (Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 53:3-6), but still, everybody was surprised because they expected a conquering warrior, not a baby. My family’s experience also reminds us that sometimes the most significant and life-changing things start small. For us, it was one simple decision years ago that grew into something more than we
expected. For the world, it was a baby born in a manger to two teenage peasants who grew up to save us all. Christmas is unexpected. Christmas is a surprise. Christmas starts small and grows. And because of all of that, Christmas is good news.