December 24 - Karen Chakoian
Christmas, Then and Now
When I was little, our family had some very firm Christmas traditions. We bought our tree from the lot in town – there were no Christmas-tree farms in the suburbs of Chicago, at least not in those days. All five of us kids helped Mom bake cookies - I’m sure we were very helpful, except for the part about fighting over who got to lick the bowl. Mom always waited till the last minute to wrap Christmas presents, and judging by her mood I don’t think it was ‘Fa-la-la’ she was saying under her breath.
On Christmas Eve we all waited till the last minute to get ready for church – procrastination seems to run in my family – then, five minutes before the service started, we would cram into the station wagon, race to church, and hope there was still a pew left for all seven of us to sit together. We’d sing the carols, hear the scripture, and light our candles, my parents trying to keep us from catching someone’s hair on fire.
The last thing we would do that night was put out cookies and milk for Santa and a carrot for the reindeer. Christmas morning we’d get up as early as our parents would allow, open our stockings first, then tear open our presents. Sometime that morning Mom would bring out a coffeecake, put a single candle in it, and we would sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.
I loved Christmas. I still do, even after all these years.
But it’s different now. Now I’m the Mom, and even my own kids aren’t little any more. This may be Ben’s last Christmas with us for a while; he’s getting married in May, and who knows what traditions he and Jessica will want to start for themselves. Christmas has changed. It has to. It’s different when we’re children than when we’re adults, different when we have little ones at home than when our kids are grown, different when families change through moves or deaths or births or divorce, different when we’re older and don’t want to fuss any more, or can’t.
I was talking with my Dad about this the other day. Dad’s 93 years old and lives in an Assisted Living place near one of my brothers. He couldn’t come to my sister’s for Thanksgiving this year like he always did; he’d just gotten out of the hospital with his third round of pneumonia this year. He won’t go to be with any of his kids for Christmas, either; it’s just too much effort. He uses one of those electric wheelchairs now, and nobody’s place is accessible.
The thing is, he doesn’t mind. “Christmas doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to,” he said. It kind of made me sad to hear him say that. But then he added, “It means more.” His focus isn’t on traditions, recreating something that once used to be. He’s looking to the future, to the end of his life nearing.
A few days ago he sent an email to family and friends and said,
Christmas has a special meaning for me. Aside from the joy, the music, the gifts, the family get-togethers. This marks the gift of our Father of the first appearance of the Messiah, with the promise of eternal life and the opportunity to be part of the Lords family.
Dad’s looking forward to eternal life, with being with my Mom again, in heaven. That’s what Christmas means to him.
The meaning of Christmas changes. It has to, doesn’t it, as we change? The only thing you can be sure will stay the same is the story, the same beautiful, well-worn story of Jesus being born in a manger, of angels and shepherds and wise men, and a star to show them the way.
What I’m beginning to understand is that Jesus is born for us at every stage of our lives.
When we’re little it’s enough to know that Jesus was young once, just like us; that he had a mother and father who loved him very much; that little ones are always welcome at the manger; that there’s a place for us right there with the wise men and the sheep and the shepherds, to worship him.
In our teens it might be Mary we notice. It might be the trouble she finds herself in when she’s pregnant and all Joseph knows at first is that he isn’t the father. And in a world where everything is so competitive, where only the successful seem to matter, where the wealthy or the clever or the powerful run the world, it might be a comfort that God would choose someone so plain, so ordinary, so unlikely to be the mother of Jesus. Some small town girl nobody ever heard of. Somebody a little like us. To give birth to a Savior, born in a manger.
In adulthood, we might notice something altogether different. If life’s going well, it might be the angels we see. It might be the glory, the songs, the sheer joy of it all! Especially if that’s how life feels. A new baby is born, the world’s filled with love, and anything is possible with God! The sheer exuberance is what we hear most, and we just want to celebrate Christmas with joy.
But life isn’t always that happy, and there are times when what we need most is simply to know we have a savior. When life isn’t going according to plan, and we aren’t sure at all what lies ahead, or we’re afraid of the world around us, what we need is to hear, “A savior is born” – a God who knows human frailties. It’s comfort we need most, and hope.
Do you see what I mean? The story stays exactly the same. Nothing changes. But what you need changes. And Jesus is there, as if he were born just for you. As if he were born for exactly this time in your life. In all the joys and the sorrows, the twists and turns, he is born for you.
What is it you need most from him now?
Maybe it is simply to know that he will be with you, always, in every stage of your life.
It’s a lesson I’m still learning as my own life unfolds. When I had my first cancer surgery in May, my friend Ellen Clark gave me a card with a blessing to carry with me. It is a blessing of Christ’s presence. This is what it says:
Know that the Lord is with you: let him lead you each day into the quiet place of your heart, where he will speak with you; know that he loves you and watches over you – that he listens to you in gentle understanding, that he is with you always, wherever you are and however you may feel: and the blessing of God is yours forever.
In a little while we’ll light the candles again. The light will pass from one to another. The room will fill with that soft glow of light.
And when it’s your turn, when the light comes to you, just remember: Christ is born for you.
Rev. Karen Chakoian