There are so many things I like look forward to during the Christmas season:
“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” especially that scrawny and scraggly Christmas tree Charilie Brown brings to decorate the set of the Christmas pageant, scrawny and scraggly but green, fragrant and alive, rather than big, flashy, aluminum and dead.
Remembering The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, because they warn me to tame my own inner Grinch and Scrooge; they caution me about what happens when cynicism and loneliness rob us of the Christmas Spirit.
Watching children talk to Santa Claus.
The scents of cinnamon and clove and evergreen.
Normally serious and no-nonsense men who show up in public wearing Santa hats and sporting ties that light up or sing Christmas carols.
Christmas music of all kinds, and the carols most of all: “Away in a Manger,” “Joy to the World,” “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
Gaudy lights on doublewide trailers, inflatable snowmen in the yard, and red ribbons or reindeer antlers on the grills of huge, rusted, and rickety old pickup trucks.
Salvation Army bell ringers, toboggans on their heads, high-pitched tinny bells in their hands, kettles (now plastic), beside them, reminding me as I go in and out of stores to spend money on me and mine that the world beyond me and mine includes people who don’t have enough to eat or warm clothes on their backs or shelter against the storm.
Candlelight in an otherwise darkened sanctuary.
The prayer and the plea, the yearning and the hope, that the world will, at last and always, “sleep in heavenly peace.”
Early, early Christmas morning—when not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse—
I sit down with a cup of coffee and let the story wash over me again: a young woman and her carpenter husband giving birth to their firstborn son in a borrowed barn; startled shepherds and the angel chorus’ a shining star and journeying wise men. It is the most improbable and most important story I know, because it reminds us of the truest truth there is: God loves us. Love is the heart, the center, and the soul of everything. We are not alone after all. God comes to us, wherever we are, and Jesus is born, over and over again, to us and in us.