It happened every year. Two Christmases. Two days that were as stark a contrast as could be. Two Christmases – one meager, one abundant. One Christmas, simple, sacrificial, full of significance and hope. The other, extravagant, a balm to soothe the guilty soul, void of meaning.
If growing up in a divorced home had one perk, it would be this: double holidays and birthdays. As a young child I quickly made the connection that a double holiday equated to double the number of gifts. A birthday with mom, a birthday with dad. Christmas at home, Christmas with dad.
Christmas at home with mom was simple. We enjoyed decorating together. The moments we spent hanging our knit stockings on the banister, adorning our tree, and arranging hand painted figurines were cherished family times together. Evening car rides were highlighted by our traditional Christmas light search. Eight track tapes played Christmas music throughout the house, and I sang along with vigor. The weeks preceding Christmas focused on Christ, on His birth, and on the hope that it not only brought to a searching world many years ago, but on the hope to which it could bring to men today. Even at a young age I understood the significance. Christmas was not about the gifts under the tree but rather the gift of Christ.
When Christmas morning arrived my brother and I would quickly run downstairs to peek at the tree and the unwrapped gifts. And while the spread of gifts was sparse, there was never a frown, never a complaint, never a dissatisfied twang between us. We knew. We simply knew that Christmas was a sacrifice for our mother. We understood that mingled between the stress of paying the bills and feeding her family was the desire to somehow have a Christmas with gifts under the tree and trinkets filling our stockings. More times than not there was someone who helped, a secret someone with an envelope to ease mom’s burden. We knew. So after we forcibly pried our mother from her slumber, we enjoyed Christmas morning together. We slowly opened gifts and were thankful. We read from the Bible and were reminded of Christ’s humble earthly beginning. Christmas was special and full of meaning despite of, or because of, it’s simplicity.
Christmas at home with mom meant Christmas with Christ; it meant Christmas because of Christ. He was never given a back seat, was never an after-thought. He truly was the reason for the season. He was and still is the grandest gift of all. No wrapped gift checked off a wish list can compare. An empty stocking or a solitary present under the tree could not put a damper on Christmas. We knew…we simply knew what Christmas was all about, and it filled our hearts with great joy, a joy that spilled over even after the last ornament was tucked away. Despite our needy state abundant joy, happiness, and hope was to be found on Christmas day.
Shortly after Christmas, my brother and I would spend a few days with our dad to celebrate the holiday. The relationship we shared with him could best be described as strained; he had left when we were quite young. Typically, we were less than enthusiastic for our normal weekend visits. But Christmas visits? Well now, that was another story. See Christmas with my dad was the epitome of abundance and excess. We came to know from experience that our dad would shower us with a copious amount of gifts. Anything we wanted was ours.
When we would arrive at dad’s house, we would immediately run to the living room. I imagine that our mouths gaped open at the sight of the mountainous pile of gifts. There were boxes big and small, all brightly wrapped. There were bikes and play cars, televisions and stereos, even a pinball machine one year (no joke). There were years of such abundance that we lacked adequate room in the car to transport both children and gifts back home.
Despite the plethora of gifts, Christmas with dad was always lacking. It was missing something that no earthly, material gift could replace. There was a void present that no number of gifts could fill. Had there been no gifts, there would have been no Christmas in my dad’s home. What was missing from these Christmases was Christ. Christ’s absence was very obvious to me. His name was never uttered. He was never referenced to. His image never seen. No nativity, no manger. No opening of God’s Word. My father never understood Christmas. He never experienced its significance. I would have exchanged every gift ever given to me simply for him to have known who the Jesus of Christmas was and why He came. Dad never realized that Christ is the true giver of joy, and apart from Him, joy is at best momentary and fleeting.
As I reflect on these two Christmases, I am thankful that the Lord allowed me to experience both. They have been etched into my memory and serve as vivid reminders of what Christmas should be, as well as what it must never become.
Maybe Christmas seems to lack significance in your life. Maybe you find that despite the fact that gifts are in abundance and your stocking is filled to the brim, your heart feels empty, like something is missing. I would challenge you to consider Christ this Christmas. For only Christ will fill that void. Only Christ will satisfy a hunger, a deep longing for something more. Only Christ will bring hope, joy, and peace into your life. I pray that this Christmas you will discover that tiny babe in a manger and see how your life can be changed forevermore.
Maybe you don’t know who this Jesus is. Why did He come to earth in the first place, and why should it be important to you? I would encourage you to take the time this Christmas season to listen and discover the Jesus of Christmas.