I was blessed to grow up with two of the world’s best parents. My brother and three sisters and I are all still friends. We’re having an almost-family reunion in my hometown of Auburn, Michigan this Christmas. Mom isn’t with us—she passed away a few years ago, so I’m missing her a lot. My brother and his wife work in the retail and restaurant businesses and couldn’t arrange to get here the same time as some other out-of-town family members. I’ll see them soon, anyway, since they live not far from me in Ohio.
My Christmas memories are as special as they’re supposed to be. I can call up some painful holiday memories if I try, but the pleasant ones come to mind much more readily. Early on it was about fire trucks, footballs, and Norwegian Christmas foods like fattigman, julekage, and tea ring (falsely believed by some to be of Swedish origin 😉 ). Later it was more about the beauty and tradition of Christmas Eve candlelight services. Even later it was about playing Santa Claus for our own two children.
So yesterday we had our julekage and fattigman. Tonight there will be the candlelight Christmas Eve service, and tomorrow morning, tea ring and gifts being exchanged.
And yet none of this is what makes Christmas most meaningful to me.
Someone once asked the question, “If heaven meant having no pain, no sickness, no tears, and streets of gold, but Jesus Christ wasn’t there, would you still be excited about going there? My thought is No, it would only be a huge disappointment. Even seeing my departed friends and family members wouldn’t make up for it. Without Jesus Christ, heaven wouldn’t be heaven.
More to the present point, without Jesus Christ, Christmas would be a big bust—even the family part of it. Actually, apart from the work of Christ I am quite sure our family would not have been what it was and is. (I could demonstrate that with stories, but I’d need to get a sibling’s permission first.)
I know that my family is exceptional in many ways, and that many who are reading this can only wonder what it might have been like. We hosted a rather troubled young woman in our home for six weeks one summer, and she said she had never experienced a loving family before. We’ve had a young man staying in our home very recently whose family has been fragmented as long as he can remember. This is all too common.
But this friend of ours is a believer. He understands Christmas, and though he won’t be with family, he will still celebrate. A family Christmas can be great, or not; either way, it’s not what Christmas is about.
One of Jesus’ names was Immanuel, “God with us.” He wasn’t just here alongside us, he became one of us. He suffered all the indignities of infancy, and he went as far as experiencing history’s most unjust execution on our behalf. In between he lived a life unlike any other in history, showing us God’s wisdom, power, and love, not only in words but in the flesh. In the end he defeated death and gave us reason for unbounded hope.
Christ above all: this is why Christmas is worth celebrating.