Although there's really no chronological order or even method to the memories that I'm writing about, the next memory that comes to my mind did occur in 1998 (a year when I did NOT go back to the Methodist church for the candlelight service!). That year our church was participating in Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree project, where you choose the name of a child whose parent is in prison and you buy a gift for the child. Then it's presented to the child as if it were from the mom or the dad who is incarcerated so that the child doesn't feel forgotten.
As Christmas approached, we encouraged our son, David, to use his piggy bank money to buy a gift for an Angel Tree child; Phil and I said we would buy the child some clothes. Since David was going to be involved in this, we chose a card that had a 6-year-old boy's name on it. Then we busted out the piggy bank, literally, and went to Toys-R-Us. The store had a very nice electronic firetruck that was marked down by 50% so the price was reasonable and within David's budget:)
He really wanted to get that for the child so then all we had to do was take it home, wrap it up, and deliver it to the child's address, which we did. But when we got to the address on the card, we found that it was the grandmother's house, that the mom and child had moved to another state and that the info. on the card somehow was all wrong. The child in question was a baby - not a six-year-old boy!
As we visited with the grandmother, I watched David to see how he would take this news but he seemed fine, just sat there looking happy. I was surprised! On the way back home, the "penny dropped" and I suddenly heard this shrill, indignant voice from the back seat yell out, "You mean my Angel Tree boy is a... baby????" I said, "Yes, but we'll find some other child who needs the fire truck..." He apparently didn't hear me because he was pursuing his own thoughts. The next thing that came from the back seat was the heated remark: "I got ripped off!!! That was all the money I had and I spent it on a baby???"
We rode in silence for a bit while he continued to think things through and then he said, still just as mad as he could be, "How could the church do this to me????"
It all ended well eventually:) After he had calmed down, we were able to explain to him that some boy would want the fire truck and his generous gift would not be wasted. And as it turned out, we thought of someone in the neighborhood who needed a present that year and he was satisfied.
A few days later, as bedtime was approaching, David asked if we could do something different besides the normal bedtime story. He had a wooden fort in the backyard, with an upper level that you could actually climb up into. The year before, we had gone out into the fort and sung Christmas carols and he wanted to do that again, this time in place of the story time. It was early Dec. but the temperatures were in the sixties and seventies that week. It was raining which somehow made his suggestion seem irresistible. So at 8 p.m., he put on his army jump suit and galoshes and then the two of us trooped out to the fort under an umbrella decorated with, as best I can recall, Thomas the Tank characters. (Phil would do a lot of things with us but singing in the fort at night under an umbrella was not one of them!). As we were climbing up to the "deck", David turned to me and said, "Mom! Let's sing so loud the neighbors can hear!!!"
And we did! We sang his favorite carol, "The First Noel" and then went on to others that he liked such as "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and "We Three Kings..." He sang with gusto. (Something that he would not do the next year or the years after and certainly would not do now...)
All my life I've heard that the best way to see Christmas is through the eyes of a child and I think there's a lot of truth to that. However, I don't know that I interpret the "eyes of a child" phrase the way everyone else does. I mean, I get the wide-eyed with wonder meaning of the phrase and yes, that is a huge part of Christmas. But sometimes I think it's not only their wholehearted openness to whatever joys Christmas brings to them, but also their open-mouthed ability to lament whatever Christmas doesn't bring them that constitutes the real spirit of Christmas!
To put it another way - entering into the spirit of the season means experiencing both highs and lows, jumping for joy and singing with gusto as well as sitting among the ash heap, lamenting the promises that don't come true, the sacrificial gestures that don't pan out, the people who are missing.. I think we have the idea that the negative is, somehow, not a part of the essence of Christmas but honestly, I don't see how that can be right.
The first Christmas began with a poor woman giving birth to a sweet child..
but in a smelly stable....
Angels filled the sky with song!! But Herods plotted murder and mayhem...
Foreign Kings paid homage to the baby!!! But tax collectors upped the ante.
And miracle of miracles, the God of the Heavens sent His only Son to live on earth!!
But He also sent Him to die on earth.. for you and for me....
No wonder we sing and worship and reach out to others!
No wonder children wait with baited breath for Christmas to arrive!
No wonder we experience pageantry and majesty through movies, books, and plays.
And no wonder we feel heartbroken on some December days.
No wonder we struggle at times to keep our "Christmas" game faces on.
No wonder we lose it some days and just break down and cry.
Every Christmas is like the first Christmas - a mixed emotional bag of highs and lows. And that's the true Spirit of Christmas, I think. And, yes, you can see it best through the eyes of a child.