There is one thing about the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas that seems almost universal. Everyone, at least on a surface level, seems to be joyful and happy.
No matter whether it is a Christmas parade or a few hundred or a few thousand lights on the front porch, whether it be the consistent drone of Christmas carols over the in-store music system, the Christmas cards, the bumper stickers, the shoppers trying to outdo the others in their mad dashes for bargains, or even the clerks making sure they wish you a “Merry Christmas” instead of a “Happy Holidays,” one can honestly say that there seems to be a general sense of joy, happiness and pleasantness in the air during this time of the year. While some feel depressed by the season, most are invigorated by it.
Just the other night I was given the pleasant task of driving a group of our senior citizens to a neighboring town for the opportunity to see their magnificent Christmas lights display on their town square. As I pulled the bus into town and headed toward the square, I stopped the vehicle and waited. Coming straight toward us was an onslaught of emergency vehicles, with lights flashing and sirens blaring. It soon became apparent that I was facing the beginning of a Christmas parade.
As the vehicles reached the intersection where I had stopped, they turned right and headed down that street. It was not a long parade, perhaps 10-15 vehicles, with a truck pulling a wagon with hay bales and Santa Claus sitting on the bales, and every passenger in every vehicle was throwing candy to the people on the curbs. When the final fire engine turned, I immediately moved forward one block, only to discover the parade had also turned and was coming back down that street. When the parade had passed, I moved one more block to find the same thing – the parade had proceeded to turn back again and was proceeding down that street. The passengers in the small bus I was driving had the unique experience of watching that same parade pass by them three different times. That whole experience was a very joyful one, even in addition to the beauty of the Christmas lights display in the town.
Around our house, the attitude is a joyful one. Getting the Christmas decorations out and up is always a chore. We have a tradition in our home to use the weekend after Thanksgiving, even in spite of a football game or two that tend to capture our attention, to bring out the stored Christmas decorations and put them up for the season. Once we found the garland, stuffed away in a sack beneath the bag full of ornaments and other things to hang on the tree, things got pretty festive.
When our kids were small we had a family tradition that on the Saturday after Thanksgiving we would venture out and find a real, live Christmas tree. The first Thanksgiving we were in Hillsboro it only took us five hours to find a place where we could cut down our own. Obviously, now that the kids are grown and gone, my bride and I have graduated from real trees to the artificial variety. And we have been engaged in the task of “decking the halls and trimming the tree” ever since. It does indeed begin to make things look a lot like Christmas. True to form, my bride has done her traditionally great job of transforming our home into a seasonal delight.
I am sure that there is some other deep, more theological (or Santa-logical?) symbolism for decorating our homes, but this traditional transformation around our house at this time of the year reminds me of the transformation that the living Christ of Christmas makes or wants to make in our lives. I cannot say it any better than the Scriptures: “What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Because Christ came into the world and into our lives, the ordinary homes of our hearts have been transformed into palaces of joy where the King of Kings and Lord of Lords takes up residence.
For so many, this time of the year is somewhat melancholy, whether because of the loss of loved ones, the economic stress, or the psychological stress of the weather combined with the relational issues related to the lack of strong family ties. In some ways, I believe God even identifies with us in that sadness.
Can you imagine the emotions He went through when it came time to send His Son to a far-away place to die so that someone else (you and I) might gain their freedom? “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That love for you and for me caused Him to give up One whom He valued the most for you and for me. That is what brings joy to our hearts.
During this Christmas season, I encourage you to rejoice in the transformation that Jesus Christ has made in your lives. Renew your commitment to live joyfully in and for Him each and every day. And ask Him to help you make this not just a seasonal transformation that lasts only for a short time, but a lifetime transformation that continues from this day forward.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for this The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at [email protected]