We are one day away from Christmas! It is, without a doubt, my favorite holiday. When I was a child, I would be so excited, I couldn't WAIT for Christmas to finally arrive! Now that I'm somewhat (cough cough) older, I still feel the same way -- but for entirely different reasons. Over the years, my perspective of this wonderful season has been radically changed.
Christmas Eve -- such a beautiful, special night. A precious, holy night. There's an overwhelming feeling of anticipation that I find almost tangible, as if the whole world is collectively holding its breath. And waiting.......
Tonight, some people may still be in the process of traveling back home or heading over the river and through the woods to someone else's house. Some may pull out and don their holiday finery to head out to dinner with loved ones or friends, while some may just stay at home, order a pizza and finish up wrapping those few, final gifts. Others may invite family, friends and neighbors over to their homes for a joyous open house celebration, or perhaps there are people gathering together to share a big family dinner as my family did, back in the day.
Thinking back to my childhood, I can remember my dad, my mom and myself bundling up and driving over to my Italian grandmother's house on Christmas Eve and finding it filled with all of my mom's relatives, for the 'festa dei sette pesci': The Dinner of the Seven Fishes (yes, fishes -- okay, so it's not grammatically correct, but that's what it's called, so please just go with it). Everything that my grandmother and my aunt, who lived with her, put out on the table to eat was so incredibly delicious and entirely homemade -- a result of days of almost round-the-clock preparation and cooking (and all of which I totally did not appreciate until I reached my twenties).
Christmas Eve, my cousins and I were allowed to open ONE GIFT each. And how we were oh-so-breathless with anticipation, hardly able to sit still at the 'kids table' while we waited and waited and WAITED some more for the grown-ups to finish up with dinner, then dessert and coffee and brandy and their seemingly ENDLESS adult chit-chat, so we could tear into that one gift.
There was also (and still is for me) a very sweet, hushed reverance and holiness about Christmas Eve, as we'd all silently (well, as silently as a rowdy Italian family like mine with a bunch of little kids hyped up on Coca Cola and hot chocolate can be) make our way out from my grandmother's house to the church up the street for a beautiful, joy-filled, candlelit midnight service, stopping in awe to look at and admire the near life-size Nativity scene outside on the church lawn, with the spotlight shining on Baby Jesus. Once inside, such singing that went on of all of those wonderful carols! I'd loved listening as my mom, who had the most beautiful singing voice, would harmonize along with everyone else. Such a wonderful, magical night!
However, last year I heard something on TV about Christmas Eve that just about gave me an extreme case of agita (and for all you non-Italian bloggy friends, that means a feeling of agitation or anxiety). I had heard that the media was hailing Christmas Eve as 'the new Black Friday,' which honestly just made me cringe, because it's yet another bullet shot straight through the heart to kill off the true meaning of Christmas.
And what exactly IS the true meaning of Christmas? Literally, if you take apart the word, you have:
"Christ" - obviously, that's the One and Only Jesus Christ, LORD and Savior, Who came into this world as one of us, leaving behind all His glory and honor in the Kingdom of Heaven to dwell with, love on, rescue and redeem us.
"Mas" - an Olde World English term referring to a celebration or a festival.
Translation: it's a celebration of Christ...Christmas!!!
So...it's NOT supposed to be all about door buster deals on iPads, iPods and LCD HD TV's at stores open as late as possible on Christmas Eve (with some actually opening again on Christmas Day); it's not supposed to be all about frenzied crowds of procrastinating shoppers stampeding like wildebeests through stores for those last minute, drastically reduced in price (and oh-so-thoughtful and heartfelt) gifts; it's NOT supposed to be all about a jolly, white haird and bearded, overweight gentleman in a wooly red suit who hangs out with elves and flies a sleigh attached to 8 (supposedly) tiny reindeer, nor is it supposed to be about dashing through the mall JUST to stand in a 20 minute line to buy gift cards or get those tons of purchases professionally wrapped. It's not supposed to be all about 24 hour holiday movie marathons (as entertaining as they can be). It's not supposed to be all about the perfectly decorated house or tree, the perfect outfit or the perfect dinner!!!!
But it IS supposed to be all about the Perfect Child -- Jesus -- born some 2,000 years ago to the humblest of parents in the humblest of places and circumstances: for us. All for us.
Jesus. Oh Jesus, You ARE our Perfect Gift. Are we too stressed out, distracted and drained to receive You? Will we sprint through our already overloaded lists and daily agendas AGAIN this year, find we are running late as usual, swoop up our families and make a mad dash out the door to church for Christmas Eve services, flinging our exhausted bodies into our seats with our minds still spinning? I must sadly and shamefully admit that I've lost count over the years of how many times I'd fallen prey to doing all those things.
Or...will we instead make a decision to pare down our lists to bare bones necessities to simplify our day and take some time out to quietly make room in our hearts, our minds, our souls to receive the greatest and best, most perfect gift of all?
Can we join together tonight to joyfully, peacefully make our way over to the foot of that crude, dirty manger; to humbly kneel and to gently draw close....holding our breath in wonderous anticipation of the sweet beauty we will see....to gaze in awe upon and give our worship to our precious newborn King, Jesus?
Jesus, the Christ. He alone is the Ultimate Gift.
O come! Let us adore Him!
It's still a mystery to me
That the hands of God could be so small,
How tiny fingers reaching in the night
Were the very hands that measured the sky
Heaven's love reaching down to save the world
Son of God, Servant King
Here with us
You're here with us
Jesus the Christ, born in Bethlehem
A baby born to save, to save the souls of man~ Here With Us, by Joy Williams