Monday, November 29, 2010

With Thankful Heart

It's officially the Christmas season! The following piece is part of the November/December issue of Significant Living. However, because this is a value-added blog, while you read it, you can listen to the song that inspired it here. It's pretty much the most beautiful Christmas carol I've ever heard.

The trifecta of awesomeness performing it--Alison Krauss, Natalie McMaster, and Yo-Yo (the cellist, not the cat)--of course, helps. So here's the carol, and below it, the article.

With Thankful Heart

When the only verse of the Christmas story you identify with is “They came with haste,” it’s time to reevaluate the season.

My youngest daughter has the dubious pleasure of a December birthday. She’ll be turning 5 this year, so she is certainly at the age where it’s all about the presents. Whenever we are out somewhere and she sees something that catches her eye, she asks, “Can I have that for my birthday?” or “Can I have that for Christmas?” I have heard about either her birthday or Christmas every single day since last December 12 and December 25, respectively.

One recent Sunday on the way to church, she piped up and said, “Mom? You know how Jesus was all growed up but first He was a baby? Well, how did He get here?” A friend of ours had just recently had a baby, so I think she was trying to piece this together, since she knows Jesus is God, and wondering if He arrived in the same fashion. I gave her a suitably simple reply, she seemed satisfied with, and we went on.

With all her talk of Christmas and Jesus’ birth, though, I’m reminded of the celebrations from my childhood. We had, what seems to me, idyllic Christmases. We baked Christmas cookies with my mom; picked out the tree with my dad; decorated the house with ornaments and treasured mementos; opened our home for neighborhood and church parties; and sat around the fire, listening to my dad read us Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. We prepared certain holiday foods and recipes, listened to non-stop Christmas music—Handel’s Messiah and carols performed by the Percy Faith orchestra—and, every Christmas Eve we went to church at midnight for a candlelight service.

I know when many people think of Christmas, they think “family,” “joy,” “togetherness,” or “peace,” and, with that kind of past, I should, too. But now that I am an adult, when I think of Christmas, the first thing that comes to mind is stress.

As the season approaches, I sit at my kitchen island and begin to make lists. I have my calendar on one side to coordinate our schedule of cookie exchanges, my daughters’ Christmas programs and practices, parties, and family events (with that December birthday in the mix). On my other side, there are stacks of recipes for goodies I need to make and bring to neighbors and friends. The dining-room table is piled with my address book, cards to be written and addressed, and a stack of mail from wonderful organizations, reminding me that Christmas is the time to give and remember those in need. When I look at those, I fret about whether I’m emphasizing the importance of this enough to my children.

I’m also making lists of presents—ideas for my immediate family, our extended family, and for gift exchanges. I’m writing this list right next to our bank statement, which produces more stress! I feel trapped wanting to recreate for my children the wonderful Christmases of my youth. I want to give them the gifts they long for and the memories they will treasure. I want to go back to that place, too, where everything seemed bathed in candlelight, joy, security, and love. I can identify with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s comment about revisiting where he lived as a boy: “I realized it wasn’t the town I was longing for; it was the boyhood.”

I’ve got Christmas music playing in the background to put me in the holiday spirit, but I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. Then, suddenly, I register the lyrics of the song that is on:

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending His beloved Son.

I am lost in the haunting melody and beauty of the words. When was the last time I simply sat and considered “what our good God for us has done”? When was the last time I pondered that God wrapped Himself in frail, human flesh, and entered our cosmos in order to rescue us and reconcile us to Him?

“Take your son, your one and only son, the son whom you love...”

He didn’t send a military general, great warrior, or political leader. Rather, one heretofore unremarkable night, God Himself rent space and time, tearing a giant hole in the fabric of the universe while all fell silent except for the cry of an infant’s voice—the same voice that cried out “It is finished!” years later, rending the curtain that separated us and God.

God arrived in person.

The carol ends with the words, “. . .with thankful heart and joyful mind.” And, as I sit here, looking around at the lists, the recipes, the calendar, the bank statement, and the responsibilities, I picture God looking down at a pitiful world with kindness and love, a mother looking down at her newborn baby with adoration, and myself looking at my own children with tenderness of all that I want to give them. As their mother, the greatest gift I can give them is this precious truth—what God has done for us—the Gospel.

Oh, my sweet little girls—I can tell you how He got here!

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