It’s about this time every year that I start getting a little nostalgic with All Things Christmas.
I’ve been away from home throughout the Christmas season for six years now. Sometimes, I can manage to get back for a few days including Christmas Day, but more often I arrive around the 27th and spend New Year’s back in Massachusetts with my family. Gone are the days of finishing school weeks before December 25th, and heading home for days on end of shopping, baking with Mom, wrapping gifts beneath our big decorated tree in front of the living room windows.
So it’s pretty typical, in the last few days before Christmas finally gets here, that I start yearning for home and for familiar comforts: Grandma’s peanut butter bars, Swedish mulled wine, the same three Christmas CDs that get played on repeat as we trim the tree and curl ribbons for packages.
This year is no exception; in fact, it’s even intensifying my feelings of longing because I won’t see my parents, for the first Christmas ever. And I know I’m not alone in that; I know far too many of us are looking ahead to spending this Christmas Eve and Christmas Day alone, or with just a couple of family members or friends.
We’re scaling back our customary feasts or doing away with them altogether; we’re buying more packages online and wrapping far fewer gifts.
In the midst of this, of mourning all these losses – large and small – I keep hearing the echoes of Dr. Suess’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas story; at the very end, when the Grinch hears the Whos singing in the village square and realizes that, despite all the gifts and decorations he has stolen, Christmas has still come:
He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming. It came. Somehow or other, it came just the same.
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling. How could it be so?
It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags!
He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
We know, as people of faith, that there is so much more to Christmas than stuff; than presents and decorations. But this year, I am challenged to realize that there is also more to Christmas than experiences, than food, than parties and traditions. Those all give the holidays substance and meaning, but the truth is that Christmas still comes without any of it.
Christmas will still come this year.
Without all of us singing carols together in church, and without the flood of candles lit as we sing Silent Night together. Without families gathered at big dinner tables, even without wrapped presents or cardboard Amazon boxes under the tree.
Christmas will still come.
We will still, in all our various places, read or hear the scripture story, remember the feeling of joy and surprise as Christ’s birth is announced, look up at the starry sky and recall shepherds in a field so long ago. We will still be reminded that Christ came to be with us, and that means he is still with us now, even in these dark and trying times.
We will still have Emmanuel, and in some sense, whether together or apart, we will still have each other.
Thank God for that. Thank God for Christmas.
And thank God for each and every one of you.
Merry Christmas, dear friends.