By Rebekah Theilen
When I was a child, Christmas never seemed long enough. There was one day--from Christmas Eve to Christmas morning. By Christmas afternoon you could already tell the world had moved on. The Northern Hemisphere had turned away its face from the morning. The cinnamon rolls were long gone and the wrapping paper had all been thrown away. The stockings lay forgotten on the floor, having gone from full and overflowing to limp with a returning emptiness. I swear there was something in the emptiness, but still, still, still. It didn’t feel right to say goodbye to Christmas so soon, for it had only just arrived. I’d waited all year for a passing moment in time.
And every year, beyond all reason, I’d do it all again. One Christmas Eve my sister and I tried to wait up for Santa. We kissed our parents goodnight and pitched our sleeping bags on our bedroom floor. We had a strange door that only covered three-fourths of the doorway. This made it handy to listen for when Mom and Dad had gone to bed, and perfect for letting the light shine in on our wide awake faces. We were old enough to suspect that Santa wasn’t who they said he was, but the doubts only fueled our desire to believe. I don’t know exactly what we wanted to be true. We only knew Christmas had the power to make the dead of winter come to life.
We ended up falling asleep, sleep, sleep. And lo and behold, Santa still came. As my sister and I grew, it became less about our own gifts, and more and more about keeping the Christmas flame alive for the others. One year, the anticipated white Christmas delivered the dreariest downpour of rain we’d ever seen in December. The littlest ones had gone to bed, and after making sure it was okay with Mom first, my sister put on her boots and went outside. She trampled through the wind and rain and back again. The next morning, the kids woke up not only to find their stockings full, but Santa’s footprints all over the grungy orange living room carpet.
Santa doesn’t come to my house anymore. Somewhere along the way, I grew up to be the mom who doesn’t like muddy footprints on the floor, and cringes at the sight of more candy canes and sugar. What remains is my love for the Christmas spirit. We still fill the stockings and light up the tree and watch Frosty the Snowman a hundred zillion times. My children tell me there’s no such thing as magic. Part of me, of course, is happy about this. The other part of me simply smiles in the waiting, in all the hustle and bustle, in all the wrapping and unwrapping coming with the messy joy of giving. For I have hopes that one day, they too will delight in the mystery of God made known.
I’m thankful for the gifts my parents gave me growing up. I’m thankful for all those long winter nights of Luke chapter two, for Charlie Brown trees, and for Linus who taught me what Christmas was all about. I’m also thankful these days for the gift of the Church year. I have my husband’s Lutheran heritage to thank for this one. Words like Epiphany and Lent took some getting used to, but you didn’t have to convince me any further once I heard about the twelve days of Christmas. And while I understand Advent isn’t the same thing as Christmas, it allows me to live the Christmas life a little longer, giving more time to wait up and watch with those I love.
I still get sad when Christmas Day ends. The sadness comes, not from a let-down, but from a longing fulfilled. God kept His promise and Jesus is worth waiting for. This is why the house gets an empty feeling come February when I force myself to take down the tree and put away most of the decorations. There is something in the emptiness, something hiding in the heart, and I think that something is a sure and blessed hope. The Christian sings long after the world has moved on because Christ the Lord is come and the world has been moved. Hope has brought us the dream, dream, dream of a forever day when it’s always Christmas and never winter.
Have you ever noticed how joy and sadness go hand in hand? Joy is like the best friend sadness ever had, for joy is the one who comes alongside and accepts sadness, just the way it is. Joy doesn’t try to sweep sadness under the rug, or pretend things are different from the way they really are. Joys says it's okay to cry and don't forget how to laugh. Joy--ever present--embraces sadness through the tears, through the storms, and all the seasons of one’s life. Joy will never leave us, for Joy is rooted in the unshakable Truth, the Hope and secret of being content, the beautiful song that Christmas is come, and sadness is going to be happy again.
Great is Thy Faithfulness, O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be
Great is Thy Faithfulness! Great is Thy Faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!