Christmas in much of America overflows with celebration: gatherings of friends and family, decorations, lights, music, food, gifts to give and receive, and special programs at church. In the midst of all the gala events, those of us who celebrate the birth of Christ also diligently try to prepare our hearts for the meaning of Christmas. We don’t want the priceless “reason for the season” to get buried in an avalanche of gift wrap, bows, and parties. Sometimes we become desperate for a moment of quiet reflection while busily completing our to-do lists. Cards? Check. Gifts? Check. Food prep? Check. Gifts wrapped … well, maybe by midnight Christmas Eve if all the toys and bikes are properly assembled?
I will never forget an unusual Christmas I experienced eight years ago. I learned more spiritual truth in that unique celebration than any other in my lifetime. It was Christmas Eve. I was all alone … well almost. I was with my eighteen-month-old grandbaby, but she was barely talking, and her bedtime was at seven p.m.
I can still hear my daughter’s voice on the phone just a few days before Christmas. Sadly, we were across the continent from each other, from the east to the west coast. Her baby boy had been admitted to Children’s Hospital with congestive heart failure. He was born with a sizable hole in his heart, but the cardiologist was hoping he could grow a little more before surgery. “Mom, I need you. NOW,” she said breathlessly. Our eighteen-month-old granddaughter needed care. Her parents needed to be with our six-week-old grandson who was now immediately scheduled for open heart surgery.
I hopped the next flight out while my husband stayed home to welcome another daughter and her family who were driving from out of state to spend Christmas with us. It was hectic. It wasn’t planned. It was scary. So much was at stake, and naturally, our attention was diverted from the usual Christmas traditions. We fervently prayed Psalm 91 prayers for our baby whose life was on the line. We asked everyone we knew to pray for this tiny one, his mommy and daddy, and the medical team into whose hands his life was entrusted.
Christmas Eve arrived, and my adorable little toddler’s scheduled naps, meals, and bedtime negated a church service. At dusk, I loaded my little blonde bundle in her wagon, and we began a Christmas Eve walk through the neighborhood. In the simple expression of the Whos of Whoville (from The Grinch) when Christmas was stripped of its busyiness and trappings, I still had worship for the One it was all about. In simplicity. I sang every Christmas Carol I had ever learned — one baby girl, me, and songs of worship from ages past. My heart was full, and I felt the peace that passes all understanding. Not my peace as my heart was anxious. His peace.
Why did I have peace when our circumstances were filled with such scary possibilities? Just as Mary sang, the young mother of Jesus, my heart was filled with praise for the Mighty One, my God, my Savior. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant” (Luke 1:46-47 NIV). Christ’s coming so I could have a relationship with Holy God was the greatest gift ever. What we were celebrating wasn’t dependent on traditions.
As one with family scattered across the country, it’s easy to reminisce. There were once hectic holidays with large family gatherings with our own little ones, their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. I remember the chaos and fun with fondness. Yet, sometimes it takes having all of our usual customs stripped away to see the greater treasure.
I will never forget the love and quiet reflection I felt on that unusual Christmas Eve. It helps me step back into time, and imagine the fear mixed with blessing that the young Mary experienced. “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14 NIV). May you also know His peace and presence this Christmas.