The past several weeks I have been working on sermons relating to the Advent Season. Christmas – that magical, mystical time each year that conjures up exciting moments when as children we marveled at the Christmas tree all lighted with colored bulbs and festooned with a wide assortment of decorations. Alongside the expensive ornament made of crystal purchased at a boutique hangs your handmade color paper-chain. Both hold a special place in your heart.
When our girls were young, and I was pastoring my first church, we couldn’t afford many frills. We needed a new star for the top of the tree, so I grabbed an old Frisbee I found tucked away in a corner of the garage and cut it into the shape of a five-pointed star. Then my daughter, Laura, and I wrapped it in tinfoil. Even years later when we enjoyed a more lucrative income, we continued to use this tinfoil star for many years. Somewhere along the line, no doubt during one of our many moves, the star disappeared. The girls and I still lament its passing.
There is something unique and extraordinary about Christmas. It is ready-made for countless memories. I often will ask people during Christmas what their most memorable Christmas was. I have any number that I could recount, but there is one which is indelibly imprinted on my mind. The year was 1972. I was a sergeant in the Marine Corps and had just returned from Vietnam the week before Christmas. Even though my parents had moved to a new location, home was still where they were. I was single, unattached, and enjoying my first few months as a Christian. I was now looking at Christmas in an entirely new way. Because of my decision to trust Christ as my Savior, I now was looking at Christmas for what it actually is – the birth of Jesus the Christ, the Savior of the world, and the Son of God.
I was on leave throughout Christmas that year of ’72, anticipating checking in with my new (and final) command, VMA-133 (a.k.a., the “Dragons”), at Naval Air Station Alameda. Relaxing in my parents’ home was a luxury. I enjoyed the festive environment in our home with friends and family coming and going. But it was in the evenings after things settled down that I would sit alone in the living room just looking at the Christmas tree with the growing pile of presents under its boughs. This scene had a settling affect on me, leading to a touch of melancholy. There I was – safe, comfortable, and with the people I love. With this contented sensation, the realization that many of my fellow servicemen would never be coming home again. They would never experience the loving embrace of a mother or the firm handshake of a father as I had when I walked down the portable steps of the “Freedom Plane” at Travis Air Force Base. These patriots who sacrificed their lives for us would never again enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the Christmas Season at home. While sipping a chilled glass of eggnog, my thoughts would focus on what that first Christmas was like. God loved me so much that he was willing to sacrifice his Son so that I might have eternal life. Jesus says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Just as our American warriors are willing to lay down their lives for love of their family and country, Jesus loves you and me so much that he was willing to lay down his life for us. The birth of Jesus has significance only because of his eventual death and resurrection. It is this hope we experience at Christmas that causes rejoicing each December.
It was with this thought in my heart that long-ago Christmas of ’72 that I took a blanket and pillow and curled up by the Christmas tree, falling into a sound sleep. Not only was I safe in my home, I was safe in the arms of God. That is cause for a Merry Christmas!