Christmas is different this year. There are different people and different surroundings and different decorations. The stockings aren’t hung, replaced instead with a pale stony wall. The lights are dim, dusty and hidden away in a box. A green wreath sits on a shelf wrapped in plastic, waiting to be hung again. It’s a dismal season, quiet compared to years of Christmas songs and cookie-baking and Charlie Brown.
However, a tree stands tall in our house, lights transforming from white to colored in smooth waves. Candy canes line the branches and an angel guards us, watching over the living room to make sure no one gets too dreary. You see, the ornaments were taken, stolen by an angry current that swept through our doors all those months ago. Three boxes survived, three boxes no one was courageous enough to open for fear of seeing more memories growing with mold.
A few nights ago, the house was empty. I had stayed home from a family outing in an attempt to fight off a stomach ache. Figuring I should try to be productive, I glanced at the tall, green tree, vacant of decoration minus the pre-lit lights. I was tired of how somber it was. Springing to action, I started to dress the tree, taking care that each red and white striped cane was perfectly aligned on its own specific branch. Eventually, the candy cane boxes emptied, yet the tree still looked fake. There was an artificial cheer about, something too forced to be genuine and joyful. Breathing in deep, I knew what I had to do.
The garage door creaked open as I peered inside at the boxes containing little bits of the life I used to live. My swords sat on a table, swaddled in a cloth, as though protecting metal from the cold. In another corner lay the wind chimes, still covered in muddy stains from that stormy night. I peered through boxes and bags until I found them, the Christmas decorations. There was a table by the wall, holding hostage the ornaments that were left. A forgotten wreath peaked around pitiful snowmen as flakes of dust had begun to collect on their carrot-top noses. But there they sat: three white boxes containing either another nightmare or a miraculous dream. Praying for the latter, I brought the boxes into the living room. I took a deep breath, removed the three lids, and stared at the contents inside.
The first box contained the angels, ornaments perfectly clean, as if God was saying, “Here are your guardian angels, the ones who have kept you safe through your trials.” The second box held the last few Christmas bells, ringing in the start of another year. But the final box, the last one to survive, contained childhood memories like no other. Handmade ornaments from elementary and pre-school were stacked until the lid almost burst. Scribbled, wooden gingerbread men were intertwined with pictures of grumpy children sitting on Santa’s lap. Little creations from the past brought back sparkling memories of when my brothers and I were so innocently small, when the only aim in our lives was to please Santa in order to make it onto the heralded nice list.
I began placing the bittersweet memories on the tree, until every last one was hung. When all was done, I took a step back and looked at my finished work. In that moment, I realized something.
I realized it doesn’t matter what’s going on. It doesn’t matter if people from years past aren’t in the family photo this year. It doesn’t matter whether there are presents under the tree or lights hanging from the rooftop. It doesn’t matter if you sit at a solid wood table or in picnic chairs that aren’t even yours. What matters, is carrying out the season. Christmas is so often forgotten in the material things, in the circumstances that are out of our control. But Christmas is so much more than that.
Christmas marks the day our entire world was changed. A man who would come to bring forth the biggest societal changes was born of a virgin and placed in a manger. He brought promises of grace and mercy and eternal life. Jesus came to erase religion and create new meaning for the word relationship. He is the definition of joy and endless love. Christmas is the time to celebrate this miracle, this gift from God.
This Christmas season is different for many. People are missing and gifts are few, but when the hole in your heart feels too big to bear, speak the Gospel to yourself. Whether your year was full of great accomplishments or worn by trial after trial, remember what it’s all about and seek out Jesus. I pray peace overflows and joy returns to your heart. Anything is possible, in Jesus’ name. All you have to do is pray.