I wish it was possible to send a personal Christmas greeting card to each one of our family and friends this Christmas. But for practical reasons this will have to suffice. Over the years, so many have blessed our lives in so many ways and this is one way to recognize their love and friendship. As the years go by each Christmas seems to become ever richer and more meaningful. Nothing seems to tell life’s story better than the meaning and significance of this season of the year. I love the fact that we are able to devote a whole month to the celebration of the anniversary of this amazing event — the incarnation of the Son of God. So many of the themes of Christmas have come home to my heart with new force this year.
Several days ago, it was my privilege to share a short explanation of the Christmas celebration experience in Canada with about a dozen women who have recently come to our country from China. The occasion was a Canadian cooking class that a lady from the church puts on each year for new Mandarin-speaking immigrants. The idea is to help these women acquire some basic tools on how to navigate their new Canadian (western) culture. They are also seeking some basic English language vocabulary skills. I had to speak to them through an interpreter. I tried to think of various Christmas cultural expressions that we take for granted but that must seem exceedingly strange to people who have no knowledge of Christmas at all in their own country. (I learned that China doesn’t recognize the Christmas holiday or season in any way whatsoever.)
So I spoke about the idea of Santa Claus based on a legend about a Christian saint who used to leave candy and toys for boys and girls. He became known to the Dutch people as Sinter Klaas. The idea now, I said, is that he lives at the North Pole and travels through the sky on a sleigh pulled by reindeer giving presents to all good boys and girls.
Then there is the matter of all the decorations of Christmas – coloured lights, beautiful ornaments and an evergreen tree. Every home, I said, has a tree that is decorated with beautiful lights and ornaments. Apparently the idea of a Christmas tree started in Germany because it was a symbol of life. At one time it was decorated with nuts and fruit. The top of the tree, which often is ornamented with an angel or star, I explained, points to God.
I went on to tell them about the music of Christmas – all kinds of happy songs. There are songs about Jingle Bells, Walking in a Winter Wonderland, Dreaming of a White Christmas and Santa Claus. But there are also more serious songs called carols, like Silent Night, or Away in A Manger, which are beautiful expressions of the wonder of what Christmas is really all about — the miraculous birth of Jesus.
Then, I said, there is the whole matter of shopping and gift-giving. People buy gifts and wrap them in colourful paper representing the joy and surprise of Christmas. In homes, these gifts are placed under the Christmas tree to be opened on Christmas morning. We give gifts to one another at Christmas, I said, because these gifts represent the gift that was given to the world in the birth of Jesus. Everyone is also encouraged to give gifts of food or money to poor people who can’t afford to buy these things themselves.
And, of course, I explained, there is also lots of special festive food, parties and laughter. Christmas is the happiest time of the year because we are celebrating the blessings that came to the world through the birth of Jesus. It’s also a family time in which people will travel many miles each year to be with the people they love. Christmas is all about love — once again reflecting the wonder of God’s love for the world through Jesus.
After this brief but general introduction about some of the customs of Christmas I went on to explain that strangely, most people in Canada who celebrate the holiday in these ways don’t seem to realize that the whole reason for our beautiful Christmas celebration has to do with the birth of Jesus. I explain that Christmas is such a happy time because of the wonder of how and why Jesus came into the world. I tell them that Christmas is really one huge birthday celebration for Jesus. And then I give them a brief summary of his birth, his life, his death and resurrection. I let them know the reason this happened was because Jesus came to save us from our sins. I finish by saying that Christmas is a time of year when everyone has a chance to hear the true story of Jesus and to put their trust and hope in him. And then I explain how they can do this — through a simple prayer of faith in Jesus.
In explaining the Christmas story to these beautiful young women, I realize anew how blessed we are to know the real meaning behind the many wonderful Christmas celebration customs that we enjoy. I am impressed in a fresh way with the fact that all the extravagant celebrations of this season exist as they do simply because of the profound truth that Jesus came from heaven so many years ago by such humble means in order for us to be with him for ever. Like I said in another talk I was able to give this Christmas: Jesus left his most beautiful home in heaven to live a “homeless” life here on earth, in order that we might come back to his home in heaven for ever.
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, it is with an awesome sense of thanksgiving to God for a great year of blessing through faith in Christ. I have had the joy of serving a church in Saskatoon as its Transition Pastor. Amidst some interruption, Carolyn has enjoyed the opportunity to serve as a Teacher-on-Call for the local Prince George School District. Together we have had the opportunity to visit with our family both here in PG and in the places where they live — Calgary, Portland, Maple Ridge, and Saint Albert. In July, we welcomed a new grand-child which brings the total now, to nine. Right now we are looking forward to celebrating Christmas with our eldest daughter Heather, and her husband, Josh, and their four children, beginning with a ski trip to Jasper tomorrow.
We love the celebration of Christmas — especially because of what it all says about Jesus’ coming into the world to show us what the love of God is really all about.