…And the greatest of these is Love

We don’t really have a great deal of traditions in our home in regards to what we do on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that really are any different from anyone else, but we do attend a candlelight service on the night before Christmas.  This year was no different.  We ended our evening with a sanctuary full of others, listening to beautiful instrumental and vocal pieces, as well as a sermon that walked us through the period of time from when God created the world, through the moment when Christ was born.  It was an interesting presentation.  I haven’t seen a Christmas service like it before, but honestly, I was glad for something that contained more than the “normal” Christmas story.

Prior to heading out for church, I spent part of my day wrapping the gifts that I had purchased for my family over the past several weeks.  As I did this, I was listening to music off of my ITunes account.  I enjoy a wide variety of genres, so the tunes varied greatly.  Some very recent, some decades old.  As I listened, I had a flood of memories transition through my mind as the sound waves flowed out of the speakers into my ears.  Many of the memories were wonderful, while some took me back to times in my life where I struggled.  I was reminded of special times with friends, but transversely, I felt the sting of hurts resulting from broken relationships or memories of moments that I wished that I could have turned back time to erase.

Despite the fact that some of the memories were painful, the lion’s share of them were awesome, and far outweighed the less than desirable ones.  A vast majority of the memories took me back to the home I grew up in.  My mind’s eye saw replays of the times where that home was filled to the gills with family members, some who shared my living space, but most were ones who travelled from near and far to share in the traditions set forth by my grandparents.

My grandmother absolutely loved Christmas and everything that came with it.  Our home was always decorated extravagantly (well as extravagant as you can get with tinsel, lights and ornaments).  We often had two Christmas trees, one downstairs, and one in the picture window upstairs.  Generally, the decorating was started before Thanksgiving, and was left up long after Santa had come and gone.  As my grandma got older and her mobility became less and less, there were a couple years that the tree in the basement didn’t get put away.  It was kept up all year, but the adornments were at least stashed away until the next holiday season approached.

The one Christmas that I look back on the most fondly was the year that our house was busting at the seams.  Not only were the usual inhabitants there (my grandparents, and my brother and sister), but many aunts and uncles, Great aunts and uncles, their children, and various spouses and significant others at the time.  Several of my grandmother’s cousins were also in attendance.

If my memory serves me correctly, this was Christmas of either 1984 or 1985.  I’m pretty sure it was ’85, but I can’t quite pin it down at this moment.  Anyway, this particular Christmas Eve, when everyone would come over and give and receive their gifts, there had to have been no less than thirty people that evening.  The house was full of people!  As a vast majority of these people came from out of town, most of them stayed there overnight.  Looking back, I’m still not sure how we found places for everyone to slip into slumber.  Despite the fact that the home was overflowing with people, even then, I cherished every moment of that week.  That was the only time of year that I was able to see some of them, and in all honesty, that was the first time that I had seen many of them in quite some time.

Despite the fact that there were differences that caused issues over the past year, or some that had lingered on for much too long, everyone was able to put the negativity behind them for at least those few hours where everyone came together to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Invariably, when I take the time to search my memory bank, that time comes up as probably my all-time favorite.  With that being said, as I recycled such thoughts yesterday, I couldn’t help but feel verbose.  As wonderful as those memories are, this is the first Christmas of my life that I will not be able to share with my grandmother.  She left us last January, and today she is celebrating her first Christmas in Heaven.  I have no doubt in my mind that this Christmas will most likely be her favorite since the one I described earlier.  There was never another Christmas in our home quite like that one, and I know that she was so happy that year.  She was surrounded by so many relatives during her favorite holiday.

Despite the fact that she isn’t here physically with us this year, I suspect that she is sitting up there somewhere looking down on all of us, watching each of us in our separate settings, as we participate in our families’ holiday celebrations, mirroring some of her traditions, while also taking part in some of our own, as we blend our Christmas traditions with those of our spouses, and how they celebrated.  I’m sure that she is beside herself in happiness, taking pride in her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, not to mention her numerous nieces and nephews who loved her dearly.

As I sat in the pew at church last night, so much of this came rushing back to me, and all at once it really hit me.  Although I have thought about it daily throughout the past few weeks, the realization that I wouldn’t be able to hug her and give her a kiss on a day that meant so much to her, this year or any to follow, made my eyes well up. I spent the first half of the service struggling to pay attention and absorb what the pastor was saying to us.  I couldn’t help but think about how she would have loved the music, the way that the church was decorated, and seeing the actors that stood at the front of the church, representing Mary and Joseph, and of course the baby Jesus.  Coupled with this, this sanctuary was the one where we held here funeral service, so between the past and the present, emotions flooded my mind.

Even though last evening was tough, it made me look at what is going on around me now and helped me to realize exactly how blessed I now.  Although I may not be a rich man, as classified by many people’s standards, I am wealthy with the blessings that God has supplied me with in my home.  I have a wife and a son who love me, regardless of the mistakes I make, and when it comes down to it, what else do I really need?  God has provided us shelter and food, and ways to sustain these blessings.

In years to come, I’m not sure exactly where this Christmas will rank in my memories, but undoubtedly it will be one of the special ones.  I was able to look back, enjoying blessings from the past; look at my current situation and assess how lucky of a man I really am;  and also internalize the true meaning of Christmas.  The one constant thread that tied all of these moments together was love.  Whether it was/is the love I share with my family, the unbelievably unconditional love that our Creator has for us to lead him to bring his son to earth for us, to give his life so that we can spend eternity with him once our time here is through, or to help us to celebrate the moment that baby entered humanity to ultimately become our Savior, love is at the center of it all.

As I bring this to a close, I’m glad that my family doesn’t have a great deal of traditions that could have taken away from what I have experienced over the past 36 hours or so.  Although tradition can be a wonderful thing, sometimes it can take us away from what we have right in front of us.  Sometimes we get way too caught up in the tradition and forget to take the time to absorb and internalize what is happening in the here and now.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that I was able to look back at my past, but I’m also equally as happy that I am able to experience the present and what it has to offer.  Through it all, when it comes down to it, I’m glad that I have a God that loves me, provides for me, and allows me to experience him in so many ways, whether it be through traditions that go back many decades, or instances that happen at the blink of an eye.  Merry Christmas everyone!