I am overcome with a kind of sadness every 26th of December. On that day a once lovely evergreen is dragged away bare. Windows festooned with garlands and lights are stripped ordinary and plain. Glass ornaments of red and sliver are packed into their 11 month hibernation. Carols sung daily are abruptly silenced. The ghost of Christmas present goes quietly into his smiling grave to join his thousands of brothers.
I think of Christmas as a child: the realization that my parents were happier to give than to receive. I think of my wife at night in our yuletide bed, the soft glow of the tree through the crack of our door on her smile—radiant and gentle. I think of streetlights adorned with ribbons and wreaths, of Kevin McCallister’s sleigh ride down the stairs, of beverages so sweet as to make my teeth ache.
But this year my heart also aches with a memory so new and so unexpected it shines perhaps brightest of all: My son on Christmas morning, smiling at me. Not yet a month old, unaware of gifts and carols and cider and the Grinch. Unaware of a baby as small as he himself, come to rescue him before he was born.
My son in my arms as our family laughed in our pajamas, handing out boxes and stockings, caught up in a tradition so sweet it can only be experienced one morning a year. His eyes wide, the little baby boy looked up at me and smiled. Again and again, he smiled.
Why he smiled, I cannot say. Perhaps he saw some familiarity in my face looking down at him, perhaps it was simply the experimentation of new muscles finding their place. Either way, he smiled.
I am overcome with affection for this season now passing. The season when, as Charles Dickens put it, “men open their shut up hearts.” The season where the end of an exile is celebrated. When God Himself, Creator of the universe, stepped into humanity to rescue his lost love.
And when God shows up, he appears not as a heavenly warrior, or an intangible spirit, or a terrifying force of nature, but as a baby. A small, frail, human baby. God is born to poor teenagers in a cave outside of Bethlehem. The King of all Kings, born in the lowliest of places.
God shows up: Jesus is born.
In Jesus, the unknown God becomes known. The invisible God becomes visible. The question, “Is there a God?” and “Can we know what he is like?” and “Do we matter?” all find their answer in Jesus.
I’m reminded of this holding my son on Christmas morning.
And a feeling most bittersweet envelops me as the 25th day of December comes to its inevitable close. Beside my wife and son in our bed, the last lights of the Christmas tree creating a gentle aura of gold on the wall, the final carol of the year lulls gently as with the passing of the day itself.
…and have yourself a merry little Christmas night.