What's your favorite thing about Christmas? Sit for a bit and think about your answer. Someone said to me the other day: "I LOVE Christmas. I love the decorations, I love getting together with friends and family, and I LOVE all the food. And I thought silently: "I used to feel that way, but I'm not sure I do this year." Suddenly I was guilt-stricken because I had admitted, at least to myself, that I don't like Jesus' birthday. Who doesn't like Jesus' birthday? Further thought and soul-searching revealed to me that the reason I feel the way I do now is because I've allowed all the other things that seem to go along with the holidays—the stress, the hectic shopping, the nonstop partying, the race to buy the perfect present—to overshadow the true meaning of Christmas. And I was unbelievably sad.
So I went searching for Christmas…for all the emotions and truths and joy I've felt in years past. I started with this Scripture, and it's the King James Version, because when I say this passage to myself without thinking, that's the version that rolls off my tongue:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 2:8-14).
"Glory to God in the highest"—THAT'S what Christmas is: celebrating the birth of the One who was sent to earth to live among us and then die on the ugly, painful cross so that we can spend eternity in heaven with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit.
This year I want to make my Christmas all about Jesus' birthday. When my kids were young, we always baked a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas Eve and sang “Happy Birthday” together. And when the grandparents were over that night, my kiddos would climb up on their Paw Paw's lap and, with his glasses low on his nose, he would read them the Christmas story (again from the KJV, because to him, that's the only version that counted). For the past four Christmases I've imagined my Dad sitting in his Heavenly Father's lap on Christmas Eve, surrounded by angels and hearing the Christmas story.
This year I want to remember and pray for each and every person who has contributed to the countless Nativity scenes that are on display throughout my house. I want to soak in every single artistic rendering and setting and imagine the smell of the hay, the low mooing, neighing, and snorting of the nearby cattle, and the look of love on Mary's face as she held her baby King—and our Savior.
In an effort to live out the true spirit of Christmas, this year I want to be generous—with my time, with my help to others, with encouragement, even with a smile. I want to give intangible gifts, as well as the beautifully wrapped ones arranged under my tree. When someone comes to mind as I'm baking or wrapping, I want to stop what I'm doing and call or text that person and thank him or her for touching my life. I want to be kind to the people who are rushing out and about and treat them as Jesus would instead of sighing with frustration when they take my parking spot.
And this year, when I arrange and open my grandmother's large print Bible alongside one of my Nativity scenes and mark the passage in Luke with a red ribbon, I want to stop right then and read the Christmas story yet again.
And, finally, on Christmas morning, just as I've done every Christmas since my kids were small, I'll quietly move through the house, turning on the tree lights, lighting the candles, and softly playing again the Christmas music I love. Then I'll curl up under a blanket on the couch and spend some time thanking God for loving the world so much and for sending his Son, the greatest gift of all, to me –and to you – and "to all people." Merry Christmas!
Pam Shepherd is a mother, grandmother, sister, friend, and lover of all things Christmas. She also is an editor of youth resources at The United Methodist Publishing House.