This is my seventy-first Christmas. Each one different, each one the same.
I know that my first Christmas was in Lexington, NC, because I was baptized at the First Evangelical and Reformed Church in Lexington on Christmas Eve. My parents would have been there along with my mother’s parents (Lexington was her hometown). My father’s parents might have been there, but they were living in St. Louis at the time, and I don’t know if they made the trip.
Until I moved to Kirksville, MO, in 1968 to begin my sophomore year in college, Christmas was either at home (wherever that was) or in St. Louis at my grandmother’s home. The young spruce tree in this photo (taken in July 1952) was known as “Tony’s Christmas tree”.
Surprisingly, for all the moves that I have made, I never experienced snowfall on Christmas until I was forty years old. Of course, when you spend many a Christmas in places where snow in December is a rarity, it is not likely Bing Crosby will be singing at your place.
For someone who turned 18 in 1968, I was lucky. The only time I spent Christmas overseas was in 1953 when we lived in the Philippines. Others of my generation spent Christmas overseas when they were bit older and in far more trying and hostile times.
I have seen my gifts shift from the toys of a young one to the needs of an adult. I have gotten presents that I really wanted and presents that I really needed and presents that I absolutely hated but they, like all the others, were given in love, so they were accepted.
I have tried to give presents that people wanted or could use many times. And admittedly, in these recent times, the gifts have become rather utilitarian, allowing the recipient options.
Many, if not all, of these Christmas’ past have been days of joy and tradition.
But divorce and broken bones have also been a part of my Christmas past. The darkness of those days makes the present shine a bit brighter.
But the constant in all these years of celebrating Christmas has been my family. Even during the Christmas when I was technically homeless, my Christmas was spent with my family.
And one Christmas, I brought someone into my family and began a new one.
The definition of my family is more than just being with my parents and siblings or as a parent with my children. For some twenty years, Christmas being with a congregation, either my own or as the assigned lay speaker/servant.
And that is what Christmas is about. As we read the Christmas story, we note that Joseph had gone to Bethlehem because that was the place from which his family had come. That meant, at least for me, that many of the people who were in town that time were relatives.
It is a time when we are with our family. I leave it to you to define who is your family. It can be your parents, your siblings, and/or your children. It can be with those you love or share common goals and thoughts. It can be with those at church or with those with whom you gather frequently. And I hope that whoever you gather with lift you up and that you lift them up.
It is a time to remember that some two thousand years ago, a family was begun. Perhaps the beginnings were not the best (after all, the ruler of the country would soon send out a hit squad) but we know that it was a family where love was part of the growth process and would be there until the end.
So, we gather for Christmas, in many places and in many ways, but also knowing that, like so many others over so many years, it is because Jesus Christ was born this day.