An old man stoops and grabs a weathered hardback off the shelf. He handles the volume gently, careful not to disturb the fragile binding while returning to his favorite chair, glasses perched on his nose. As he slowly turns the yellowed pages, his eyes dart around the room. Grandpa is flanked by several grandchildren, who lean in with anticipation. Across them a fire flickers and crackles in the hearth.
It’s less than two weeks until Christmas, but at Grandpa’s house, these words usher in the official beginning of the season. “Let me tell you a story.” They knew the story, but they want to hear it again.
And so he begins a daily December ritual. Each day Grandpa unfolds another piece of the Christmas story. An angel. A scared young Jewish girl. A bewildered fiancé, Joseph. Shepherds. Angels. Wise men. The kings from the East. The wicked Herod. The shepherd boys in the field. The innkeeper. Prophets and princes, paupers and philosophers, wise men and wanderers.
The kids relish these moments every year. Sure they love shopping and wrapping presents and church plays, but those moments in front of the fire with Grandfather—these are the real memories of Christmas.
Does this bring back any holiday memories? Or maybe they bring up different, but similar moments in your childhood.
For me, three memories come flooding back every December. I think of my father reading, every Christmas Eve, out of Luke 2. To this day, when I hear the King James version, I can picture my dad, in a recliner, reading to us, his voice steady and sure.
I also think of Christmas Eve at our church at eleven o’clock. Usually, the snow would be gently falling in our Chicago suburb. We’d arrive in our best outfits—a suit and tie for me—and gather and sing Christmas carols.
Our pastor would remind us, in a short homily, of why Jesus came. We’d light candles and sing “Silent Night.” There was something about this moment every year that evoked warmth and light and hope.
Lastly, I think of that most commercial of items: The Sears Wishbook. Before the age of the Internet, before you could finish your Christmas shopping on Amazon, before Facebook and a million email newsletters delivered all the best shopping bargains, the Sears Wishbook arrived at our house, its pages filled with longing. This arrival of this treasure was met by joy and followed by earnest searching, dog-earing of pages, and a thousand subtle hints, in hopes that my parents would finally, this year, place a rock tumbler under the tree.
Christmas, I know, ushers in different memories for different people. For some, the music and the lights and the parties communicate a profound heaviness. For some, Christmas means broken family memories, the loss of loved ones, or profound loneliness. I wonder what your story is this Christmas.
It could be that, like Andy Williams, you think this is the best time of year or, like Merle Haggard, you are just trying to make it through December. Or perhaps you are somewhere in between. What I do want you to know, as you start this season, is that this season is an opportunity to bring both our joys and our sorrows, our heaviness and our happiness to the one who’s miraculous life birthed this season. The good news for both Christmas carolers and cranks is that Jesus came to bring joy to ordinary people like you and me.
Taken from The Characters of Christmas: The Unlikely People Caught up in the Story of Jesus by Daniel Darling (©2019). Published by Moody Publishers. Used with permission.