Christmas is inevitably a nostalgic time. Even foolish little-boy songs like the subject heading --a recess favorite in elementary school--come to mind among holiday memories!
Christmas houses the past and cares for it. I remember childhood days when the now-familiar Christmas carols were new to me, and television ads stuck strangly to the holiday ("trust your car to the man who wears the star"). When I was little, I loved to see the silver, red, and green holiday decorations hung upon the downtown street lights, and the feeling of snow and cold on my face as my parents and I walked among the stores: Don’s Camera Shop, Merriman’s Flowers, Cain’s Drug Store, Greer’s Hardware, Fidelity Clothiers, G. C. Murphy, Craycroft’s, and others. At the time, I’m sure, I was impatient to go home rather than to shop, but one’s memory selects and interprets happy images from childhood. That old song “Silver Bells” inevitably reminds me of Vandalia—hardly the “city” of the lyrics, but it seemed so to me.
On Christmas itself, a muted stillness lay over the town. Having dispatched my Christmas toys with a boy's greedy vigor, I traveled with my parents across the river bridge and through the woods as we drove to Grandma's house for a holiday feast. Nothing in town stirred, no people stood in laundromats, no one walked downtown, and no kids played in the city park. The earth was covered with clouds. The timber beyond Four Mile Prairie's idle fields seemed faded in the snowy air. White skirts of snow ringed the fence posts. Time seemed to stand still.
Christmas is a day that revolves around rituals of home, marriage, children and family, a fact that ads to the often sad aspect of the season. We miss people and circumstances, we miss the habits of the past. Christmas contributes to the painful realization that life does, indeed, pass and change. Childhood, with its rhymes and games, fades away; our loved ones are remembered but not present. When I preached regularly, I think I added a caveat each season: if you're feeling blue this season, seek out someone to talk to!
The central meaning of Advent and Christmas, though, is the mysterious, saving Love that is not bound by time and place. God reached deep and deeper into human circumstance with a Love that doesn't let go. That reality comes with a surprising and undeserved fullness which, though more lasting than the season's other kinds of plenty, hallows all our days and gives us abundant hope in God's goodness.
These thoughts are adapted from my essay "Home for Christmas" in my book Journeys Home (1995).