“‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” Clement Clarke Moore’s poem never ceases to move me. It awakens memories of Christmases past and hopes for Christmas present.
Christmas Eve in my childhood home was a grand time. Our decorated Christmas tree would have beneath it a scattering of wrapped presents, but my sister and I knew that come Christmas morning, those few presents would be dwarfed by the many that would be left by Santa Claus.
Getting us nestled all snug in our beds was no easy task for Mom and Dad. The house was filled with the smells of Christmas baking, fresh fruit, and a heightened sense of expectation of what was yet to be. Our parents’ final effort to get us nestled into bed was to help us put out a plate of treats for Santa—fresh baked cookies, a glass of milk, an apple, and an orange. On Christmas morning, we would find the plate empty except for cookie crumbs. For some reason, Santa always took the apple and the orange with him. At least we assumed he did because he never left the apple core or the orange peels behind.
Sleep did not come easily for either of us, and probably not for Mom and Dad either; and Christmas morning came early. While some years were leaner than others, we were always blessed with more presents than our behavior warranted.
I miss the joy and wonder of those magical years that passed too quickly. As an adult, I miss something else even more. I miss the wonder of the mystery that is Christmas. I am not a Christian who wants to separate Santa Claus from Christmas. There is much that is good about Old Saint Nick. It’s just that he is not the Wonder of Christmas.
We live in a time when Christmas is bracketed between Black Friday and the after-Christmas sales. This merchandizing mania threatens to do what many fight against—to take Christ out of Christmas. However, if Christ is missing from Christmas, it is not the fault of the retail world. It is the fault of Christians. In our efforts to assure that those we love get all their wishes fulfilled, we max out our credit cards and push our family budgets into the red. Is it any wonder that by Christmas morn the Babe in the Manger is all but forgotten?
The Wonder of Christmas is found in words more ancient than those of Clement Clarke Moore. According to Luke’s Gospel, they were spoken by an angel to shepherds keeping watch over their flock: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11 KJV).
The Good News this Christmas is the same as it was on that day long ago. A Saviour is born. In Jesus the Christ, God has come down to dwell with us and to draw us unto Himself. Jesus is the Gift of all time, and the Gift is for you and for me. The Gift comes not because we’ve been nice rather than naughty, but that we may be all we can be. Come Christmas morn, let’s follow the shepherds lead: “Let us . . . go . . . and see this thing which is come to pass. . .” (Luke 2:15 KJV). It is the only way by which we can keep Christ in Christmas.