I still remember a Christmas when I was probably ten or eleven. Join me about sixty years ago.
Where I grew up Christmas was different than the famous American painter Norman Rockwell had in mind. For sure, South Florida never did have snow on Christmas day. Usually, we wore shorts and teeshirts.
But we had Christmas trees—real Christmas trees! There were no artificial trees in those days and my mental hard drive can still pull up imagines of huge trucks with cut trees stacked high coming down the highway. Have you ever smelled a real Christmas tree?
My job was to keep the tree watered. I don’t think we had truth in advertising laws then when the trees were labeled fresh or living. The earlier we bought a tree the greater the danger that it would unravel right before your eyes. Certainly, the worst day of the season was the day I had to take the undecorated tree outside—dragging it across the living room floor—stripping it nearly naked of every needle once green now turned ghoulish brown. I would wager the city garbage men, appropriately clothed in teeshirts and shorts, hated picking up thousands of prickly skeletons at the curbside. Ouch.
It was the end of Christmas.
Still vivid to me, one post-Christmas I went up and down the block collecting those trees before the garbage men could snatch them away. I was the original survivalist, building a fort to ward off the end of the world. Stacked high, I invited my neighborhood buddies to sit in it with me, waiting for enemy forces and, finally, becoming bored to death.
Since we don’t know the actual date of the Christ child, I am starting a campaign to switch Christmas and New Year’s Day. Christmas is the beginning of many, many things. We call it the incarnation, and it started something. Christmas was both a birthday and an inauguration. On that first Christmas, Dr. Luke’s gospel notes the new era Christ’s birth was and the person he was. For instance: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David,” “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”
Luke 1-2 press me toward sobering and joyful conclusions: Christmas was a new day and the offer of God’s kingdom on earth. It was the fulfillment of everlasting promises through God’s covenant to Abraham. It was the bringing of a life to earth that would be the perfect sacrifice for my sins. It was a demonstration of how much God uses and values human agency to accomplish His plans. And, it was the beginning of all of this and so much more.
It was the beginning of the end as Hebrews 1:1-2 notes, “God has…in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.”
Are we listening?