Okay, this falls into the “so insignificant you probably shouldn’t waste time reading it” category, but an amazing thing has happened this year: it feels like Christmas! And the only thing that has changed (other than my job, the state in which I live, the house in which I live, the car I drive…) is snow. In Wisconsin we got seventeen inches of snow,then it stayed cold enough that the snow didn’t go away. After 15 years in Nashville, where the mere rumor of snow causes people to stampede the grocery store then drive their car into a ditch on the way home, this is epic. Winter means something here. Oh, Nashville has seasons (spring, early summer, hot summer, hateful/evil/deadly summer, and grey) but nothing like Wisconsin. And having grown up in Indiana, Christmas, cold weather, and snow go hand in hand. It feels likes Christmastime for the first time in fifteen years.
Now, I realize that cold weather only applies to a small segment of the globe as a Christmas characteristic. I dated a woman from Australia who used to bristle at American Christmas songs steeped in snow, sleigh-rides, snowmen, and winter wonderlands. For those who celebrate with a Yule-Barbeque blazing on the beach in 103º temps, snow has little significance. But for me, I never realized just how important it is. When I remember the truly signficant Christmases past, snow plays an essential role (see tomorrow’s Christmas Memories III: Christy Woods). It reminds me once again that often it is the little things that make all the difference.
This year I have been religiously faithful in watching sappy Christmas movies. One of my holiday guilty pleasures in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It bears a painfully close resemblance to many of my Christmas gatherings growing up, but it is filled with very small, very real family moments. Even when the comedy is over the top, it is funny because it is true. Even Christmas disasters create the personal myth and memory of the holiday. Family is a mixed blessing — we’re excited to see them come, and delighted to see them go — we wouldn’t change it for the world.
There is, in most of us, a deep hunger and desire for Christmas magic. It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Miracle on 34th Street — the spectacular power of fundamental and lasting transformation is the foundation of each of these stories. Out of chaos comes not merely order, but something bordering on perfection. All is right with the world — the supreme hope of Christmas. Salvation is not just a wish, but a possibility. What we see with our eyes is always, always mitigated by what we KNOW in our hearts. Christmas is all about faith… and it is the little things that help us believe in the big things. Justice begins with a fair and just act. Kindness starts with a warm greeting and a sincere smile. Mercy is not just for those we like, but for those we don’t even know. Peace starts in the heart and emanates outward. The gifts we receive of joy, hope, peace, and love are ours for one simple purpose — to share… and if enough of us share in small and simple ways, amazing and massive transformation can occur.
Before Christmas is a time for giving, it is a time for being and becoming. It is a time to open our hearts and lives to the possibility that the gospel might be for us — and through us for others. The birth of a child is a process, not an event. The coming of the Christ begins with a little thing — a humble birth in an out-of-the-way, insignificant place to poor, unimportant people. The event takes place in squalor — filth and odor and noise. The process that began with angelic revelation unfolds and spreads and transforms. This is such an amazing story. Such a simple thing. And they did it all without snow…