Thursday, December 04, 2008

No Christmas Village at the Princes

We’ve been getting our house ready for Christmas—decorations, lights, the works…but I am not getting out our Christmas village this year. That doesn’t make me a Junior Ebenezer Scrooge, does it?

You’ve seen these villages before, haven’t you? Some ceramic maker or the good folks at Hallmark or a marketing guru somewhere decided that Christmas isn’t Christmas unless you have little ceramic houses and buildings with a little light bulb inside and little ceramic people in winter clothes and little ceramic snowmen all sitting on top of white polyester fluffy stuff that is suppose to look like snow.

Every year from the very first Christmas that Karla and I shared together as husband and wife, we have had a Christmas village. In those early years, it was more like a Christmas “widening in the road.” We had two houses, a church and a post office in our “village.” But over the last twenty years, we’ve added buildings and houses and little fake people and little fake street lights. We now have a full fledge ceramic metropolitan area—the only thing missing is a little ceramic greeter for our little ceramic Wal-Mart (OK, we don’t have a ceramic Wal-Mart. If we did, we’d have to board up all the other buildings in little Christmas village, since they would have gone out of business). Anyway, you get the idea. We have a full ceramic city now.

And this year, I’m not getting it out. It’s staying in the boxes in the basement along with the unused Christmas bulbs and the Christmas lights that don’t work (seriously, how come those little blinky lights only work one year and no more; and how do those blinky lights get so incredibly tangled just sitting in a box all year? Is there a Christmas blinky light gremlin that sneaks into my house in July and ties those strings of lights in knots and burns out one bulb on each and every string?).

I am not starting a campaign to rid the world of little ceramic villages. There will be no petition drives or boycotts. I am not hoping that President-elect Obama will put a ceramic village moratorium across the land. And if you have a Christmas Village and if you are setting it on your shelves this year, I am not trying to imply that you are akin to a terrorist or a Christmas distorter of the highest order. I am just saying that for me, this year (maybe next year I’ll feel differently), I am leaving the village and the polyester snow in the box.

It doesn’t add to my Christmas cheer or joy. Sometimes when the little bulbs don’t light or the cords get tangled or the little ceramic people take a dive onto the hardwood floors and break into littler ceramic pieces or when the white fluffy polyester snow is either too fluffy or not fluffy enough—it adds to my Christmas frustrations. But even when all goes well, I am not sure how a little ceramic village sitting on white fluffy polyester snow contributes to my celebrating the birth of my Lord. A nativity scene, I get. A beautiful well lit tree, I understand. But a ceramic village sitting on top of fake polyester snow? Bah Humbug. (Maybe I am a scrooge… yikes).

After spending last Christmas in St. Luke’s Hospital, I think I am viewing Christmas a little differently this year. I think some of the things I used to think were essential to having a happy Christmas are not so essential any more.

I don’t remember the gifts I received from last year (except for a pair of slippers, that Alex promptly claimed as his own), but I do remember the family gathering around the hospital bed and the boys opening a few presents and eating a meal provided by a nice family so we wouldn’t have to eat hospital food on Christmas day. I remember feeling blessed to be alive and thankful to God for his miraculous touch upon my life. There wasn’t a tree or stockings or a ceramic village in the room, instead I was surrounded by what was truly important: family, friends, and the grace of a loving and healing God.

If you are like me, every year we say things like: “I want to keep Christ in Christmas,” and “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” But then we go on doing the same things we’ve always done and we are just as busy and our lives are just as crowded as they have always been. And too often at the end of the holiday season we say, “Whew… I’m glad we don’t have to start thinking about Christmas until August when Wal-Mart puts the Christmas displays back up and starts playing carols over the loud speaker again.”

Well, I am hoping that this Christmas will be different. I want this Christmas to truly be more about Jesus and less about all the stuff that crowds Jesus out. I know there will be parties and gatherings. I will still be shopping and preparing for Christmas too. But I want my focus, my devotion and thoughts and prayers to be on Christ. When I read the Christmas story (that I’ve read thousands of times) I want to approach it like it’s the first time. And when we sing carols in church or when I hear them on the radio or my MP3—I want to sing maybe not with the same beauty or the same majesty of the angels in the Bethlehem sky, but with the same desire to praise the God who came as a baby born in a barn and ultimately died for me.

As I celebrate Christmas this year I want to be faithful and generous. I want to be joyful. I want to be triumphant. I want this Christmas season to truly be one that daily rejoices—even moment by moment rejoices-- in the glorious news: “For unto us a Child is Born, unto us a Son is given… and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

And for this year anyway, I don’t need a ceramic Christmas village with fake polyester snow to help me celebrate the birth of Jesus.