During Christmas time, one thing I’ve noticed is that there is a veritable smorgasbord of sounds. From music and carols to the ringing of Salvation Army bells, so many sounds bring us into the season through our auditory memory.
I loved hearing the subdued voices of my family as a child, as treats and surprises were planned, and now as an adult, as our loves conspire to provide for and surprise each other. Hearing the whispered, low-toned communications fuels a sense of anticipation, fun and even a sense of being precious to someone.
I wonder if the Wise Men approached the manger with such a sense of awe and anticipation. Were their voices subdued in excitement as they approached Christ in the manger, with their gifts? Were they hushed by the importance of what they found by following the star?
“Faith is believing that all power can’t be seen”.(Sometimes we can hear it …)
Having just visited a foreign country, the notion of the sound of things is very present to me. The Chinese language, a Muslim prayer call, a Thai TV commercial—they all sound so strange and inaccessible and they leave me a stranger standing on the outside of a wall with no apparent door through which to pass. Of course, to those on the inside, these sounds are so close and familiar so as to be indiscernable; woven into the everyday fabric of normalcy.
As a Christian, often I find that the sounds of Christmas, of the Christian faith, are too close. Songs of celebration speak of a Holy night, a Savior’s birth, the coming of a King who rules the world “with truth and grace,” the “Lamb of God” and the “Lion of Judah.” To me, standing inside this Christian edifice, these words and phrases pass unimpeded through the filters of my mind; barely recognized for what they represent. To one on the outside, they must seem as foreign as a Thai menu or a Chinese wedding.
Perhaps a helpful activity this Christmas would be to step back and listen to the sounds of Christmas with new ears. Allow yourself to be a foreigner again. And perhaps the good news message of hope that first landed on the ears of the shepherds and literally changed the world will stir your heart, liven your step and embolden your heart to live with strength, beauty, love, grace and hope.
When I think of the things that my sense of touch tells me about Christmas, many things come to mind. Let’s list some of them:
The feel of evergreen needles as you decorate the tree
The crinkling of paper as a gift is opened
The feel of the outline of an ornament as it is placed carefully on the tree
The sticky feel of a candy cane as the wrapper is removed
The numbness of my fingers as I hang the last light on the roof of the house
The feel of the straw as a manger scene is put in place
In the proper setting at this special time of year these all remind me of the Christmas story and the tremendous impact it has on our world and on my life personally. As our sense of touch this Season reminds us of Christmas let’s pause and express joy in the Reason for the Season. Perhaps it will even happen as you handle a gift that you are considering buying for someone you love, and you remember the Great Gift we were given.
Recently my son and daughter-in-law rescued a puppy from a nearby shelter. After a couple weeks, they realized the dog was deaf, apparently from contracting parvo in her early months. This was not as great a challenge as you would think, since the dog’s other senses were more acute, and she typically stayed close to her owners. Their greatest revelation was that, lacking the ability to respond to voice commands, the dog learned by observing her owners.
Our children are in their twenties now. As I look back at my parenting efforts and the resulting positive impacts on my kids (thank God!), I realize they learned far more by watching me than by listening to me. Much of the energy I burned crafting a verbal message apparently paled in comparison to their observing how I conducted myself in various situations, how I treated others, spoke on the phone, etc. While I’m certain both words and actions work together to create the strongest impact, a living example is often more powerful than the message.
God provided many lessons through intermediaries in the centuries leading up to Christ and sometimes revealed himself through impossible deeds. Eventually, He saw the need to show us what holiness and love looked like: Jesus Christ. Perhaps the most powerful lesson we have received is revealed by his actual presence as his Son in human form.
Like many of you, I sometimes struggle with what to “say” when presenting my faith to others. This lesson provides comfort that ears and eyes will open up as people see Jesus in my visible actions. My prayer is that I always remain attuned to what God wants to accomplish through me today, if only by example.
John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
Some of my most meaningful Christmas memories stem from my family’s Midnight Mass tradition each year.
One Christmas in particular remains with me. My Mother, as always, got all 6 kids dressed up in our finest to go to Midnight Mass (she stayed home for a quiet nervous breakdown before our return). I put on my red plaid dress, tights with a hole in the toe, and my “best” shoes – black patent leather. As we entered our church’s neighborhood, cars were everywhere, so parking was a long way off. We climbed out of the station wagon with my Dad, and walked about 3 blocks in the dark, icy streets. My fancy shoes were very slippery, so I kept curling my toes to hold them on, and stay balanced. My holey-tights-toe pinched painfully in the almost-too-small-shoes, causing me to quietly say “Ow,” with each left-step. I remember thinking, “I can’t wait to get there, so I can rub my sore toe.”
Obviously, the anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s birth was, at that moment, lost on this 5 year old, but the magic of the dark streets, my warm coat and hat, and holding hands with my sibs gave me a sense of deep belonging and contentment. Once I emancipated my toe, I was overcome by the sacred service. It always awed me. It still does.
What does Christmas feel like? Well, one memory is of a sore, cold toe, and the anticipation of freeing it. Now? The anticipation of celebrating our Savior’s birth, what that means to the world, and the peace and joy of the season. That’s a feeling as real as a sore toe.
Jude Mitchell, church lady (still working on the training part)
Do you remember learning of Helen Keller, the deaf and blind heroine of the early to mid-20th century? One of her habits that might not be tolerated in today’s society was to touch and feel (and I mean really feel) the face of the people she met. Feeling someone’s face was her way of learning to speak and to discover what someone looked like; it didn’t matter if you were the President or a pauper. Unlike a physical touch, our faith depends on a different kind of feeling, for we believe in Christ even though we cannot physically feel or see him.
As we celebrate Christ’s birth during this season, we will experience a multitude of feelings. Sure, we can physically touch our loved ones, the tree, and the gifts, but Christ’s birth is something to be experienced and believed, not touched physically. Christ’s birth, like our faith, is something we feel spiritually in our hearts, not physically in our hands. The Bible has multiple verses about faith without seeing, but consider this quote from Helen Keller: “the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched—they must be felt with the heart.” This season, fill your heart with God’s love and let others feel his love through your verbal and physical encouragement: a gentle touch, a kind word, a simple favor. Of course, a gift they can physically feel is always appreciated too…
We can approach Christmas feelings from numerous viewpoints…
Can you just imagine the feelings of Mary?
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1)
She most likely felt fear, excitement, confusion and many other emotions. Her response is worth pondering… “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
And later, Mary “sings” a song expressing her feelings in response…
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.”
As I reflect on how Mary’s world changed so quickly and eternally over the next 33 years, I think of the feelings she must have had before his birth, and as she heard his teaching, saw the crowds following him everywhere, witnessed his numerous healings, the miracles at the wedding in Cana, and his death upon the cross and his resurrection from the tomb.
Our lives, like Mary’s, are filled with times of amazement, great joy, unexpected news, as well as significant loss, pain, disappointment, trials, loneliness and death. Out of this mix of feelings and emotions we, as believers, can celebrate that we have a Savior, Christ the King, who put all of our feelings at rest. He gave his life on an unspeakably cruel Roman cross that you and I might know real life and purpose and meaning. Understanding this truth and experiencing life this way gives me great joy and subjects all other “feelings” to his Amazing love for me.
An old hymn expresses my feeling of gratitude in this season of Christmas:
Satisfied, by Clara T Williams (1875)
All my life I had a longing
For a drink from some clear spring,
That I hoped would quench the burning
Of the thirst I felt within.
Hallelujah! I have found Him
Whom my soul so long has craved!
Jesus satisfies my longings,
Through His blood I now am saved.
As to my own feelings, as I reflect on Christmas and God’s gift of his only Son for sinners like me, my feelings are deeply moved with praise, thanksgiving and the desire to follow him more closely.
Do you remember the pure wonderment and joy of Christmas as a young child? The unmitigated magic of Christmas that made you wake up your parents at 4:00 AM to tear open presents because your once-a-year incredible happiness could not wait? Why can’t you feel that same energetic joy anymore? Is there a void in your life since you lost the “magic?”
I have many excuses: It’s a busy and stressful time of year. I have many bills and obligations to pay. I have all sorts of this-and-that which must be done before Christmas!
Christians in the Western world have a tendency to rank “sin” in degrees of severity. I have not remotely overcome this problem in my life, but the definition of “sin,” for me, has become “anything that keeps me from growing a closer relationship with God.” Who do you know who is feeling lonely, marginalized, and abandoned this Christmas? Who has faced physical or psychological obstacles in their life this past year? Who do you know who doesn’t have “faith” who you could be praying for? I confess, I often miss obvious opportunities right in front of my eyes….
The shame and honor culture of Jesus’ day hedged bets on their children’s “value” by waiting to adopt them according to how influential and successful they became—and, therefore, how much they “honored” their family. In Matthew 10, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”
Can you still feel the joy you felt as a child on Christmas morning after years of secular ridicule and skepticism? My prayer for myself, my family, Dillon Community Church, and the people of faith (or no faith at all) who may be reading this is: “Merry Christmas to you and your family. May the glory and grace of God bring meaningful peace, rest, and restoration to you this Christmas and into the New Year; may we all receive Christ-like love into our hearts as we move into 2019.” For Polar Express fans, can you still hear the bell? It exists, just not the way you originally thought…. Merry Christmas.
In an age of stimulation through social media it seems that human beings have lost the importance of actual relationships. People obsess over the posts that get them the most “likes” and often forego physical connection with a person for the anonymity of the Internet. People are losing the impact of a gentle hug or the commitment of a firm handshake instead attempting to reach out through a text message. We’re more “connected” than ever before yet lacking an essential aspect of human communication: touch.
During the holidays we often seek that lost physical connection and travel thousands of miles just to spend a weekend being able to embrace the ones we love. We are seeking an experience that helps us *feel* the importance of the holiday season.
A warm hug from Mom, a pat on the back from Uncle Joe or a kiss on the cheek from Grandma, these things allow us to share the actual gift of the season: togetherness through gathering and touch, just as Christ intended.
Julie Andrews (and Mitch), children’s ministry director