It’s very early, Christmas morning as I begin this. Everyone is still asleep. Outside it’s dark and foggy. It’s been raining steadily for a couple of weeks.
Reflecting on 2012, it was a year of many challenges, like most years. But, in this moment, I am filled with joy and gratitude. My eyes fill as I think of the wondrous Christmas Eve we spent as a family last night. An old family tradition was revisited, but it came alive as never before.
We have called it the Joseph and Mary Dinner. Our tradition has been to celebrate Christmas Eve simply, as they might have, eating the things they might have eaten, as poor travelers, quietly pondering unfolding events that they could not have understood.
Sometimes, with the best intentions, traditions wander into unintended territory and lose the essence of what they are meant to commemorate. So it is with modern Christmas traditions that ring, not with joy and hope, but with hollowness.
There have been years when our Joseph and Mary dinner crept outside its roots, looking more like a celebration of Middle Eastern cuisine.
But last night we celebrated well. No shepherds clothed in bathrobes, no dolls wrapped in dish towels. It was a simple meal of dates, goat cheese, flat bread and grape juice. Probably much more than they enjoyed that night. But this time, the meal wasn’t the point nor the focus. Rather than the traditional reading of the Christmas story, each family member had been challenged to bring their favorite scripture about Christ. I think we had all struggled a bit to choose one as we stepped outside the traditional story. But the ensuing discussion was rich and full. We celebrated much more than a vague image of a few people from long ago in a strange and unfamiliar land, huddled around a tiny baby in a barn.
Following the sharing of scriptures and their very personal significance, we gathered around the piano to sing the sacred Christmas carols. My voice is nearly gone, I hope only temporarily. I could barely croak out the tunes. But it was magical. Instead of focusing on making lovely music with four-part harmony, we traded turns, each reading one stanza of the lyrics of all the carols in our hymn book. The reading revealed new meaning as the poetic phrases came to life unencumbered by the rhythms of the music.
“And, at last our eyes shall see Him, through His own redeeming Love”
– Once in Royal David’s City
“Shepherds, why this Jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong? What the gladsome tidings be which inspire your heavenly song?”
– Angels We Have Heard on High
“No more will sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He’ll come and make the blessings flow far as the curse was found.”
– Joy to the World
I was humbled as I contrasted our family birthday celebrations with birthday cakes against God’s majesty and power in the way He celebrated the event with the brightest star ever seen in the heavens.
– O Little Town of Bethlehem
Then, we sang from the heart with full meaning expressed in joyful celebration.
“Joy to the World”
“Jesus, Lord at thy birth” – Silent Night
“Hosanna” – With Wondering Awe
“Noël” (look it up, we did) – The First Noël
“Hallelujah!” – Silent Night
“Sing in exultation” – Oh, Come All Ye Faithful
“Gloria in excelsis Deo“ – Angels we have heard on high
… and more
I will not profane the sacred experience by attempting to recount the things we spoke of. Only this. This has already been the best Christmas of my life. I am overwhelmed with a sense of hope, peace, joy and gratitude to my God and Savior. And, I look forward to 2013 and beyond with more confidence that, come what may, it will be wonderful, good and right. Now, to hold on to that feeling throughout the year.
Merry Christmas to All
May your lives be filled with the unspeakable joy of Christmas.