Christmas always comes as a refreshment to the heart. In Denmark where I come from, as in many other countries I’m sure, a lot of the culture is centered around Christmas and there are so many traditions that we look forward to doing every year. The calendar candle where we burn down one number each day until the 24th, the Advent wreath with the four candles, one for each Sunday of Advent, the Christmas calendars on TV, or the ones with a present to open or a chocolate to eat each day of December until the 24th.
Then there’s the radio stations that go 100% Christmas some time in November and the shops that put out their Christmas decorations around the same time. And we have to find the time to bake at least a few different kinds of Christmas cookies, and there are Christmas lunches to be had with all the different social circles we are part of. With special food we always eat at Christmas, of course. We make Christmas stars and hearts to hang on the tree and around the house.
Actually, there’s a lot of pressure on. We remember the wonderful Christmas mood that we were in on other Christmases, and if that Christmas mood doesn’t show up by, say, mid-December, we start to worry. Will Christmas really come this year, or will it just pass us by without lighting up our hearts like it has done before?
So clearly to us, Christmas is not just about the traditions and the presents and the food. But these things all have something in common, something deeper: expectation and love. We carefully pick out presents for the people we love, hoping to bring them joy, we enjoy the wonderful meals together, and we count down to that wonderful evening that is the climax of the whole thing: Christmas Eve when we commemorate the very birth of Jesus.
We make all these preparations because we want Christmas to come into our hearts, to give us that fuzzy feeling, that love of the whole world and all the people in it. We need that boost in our hearts every year, and then we try to make it last as long as possible. And we’re right to! The Christmas Spirit is not just a soppy cliche. Christmas is real and we have a Savior who loved us so much that he came down here into this broken world to reach us, revealing to us not only our own infinite value but also that of each and every human being. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Christ was born in Bethlehem sometime about 2000 years ago but he must also be born in each of our hearts. And that is the heart of Christmas.
We take time to be reminded of and to contemplate the miracle, and it does something to us. A light is lit in our hearts, not because of all the Christmas traditions but because of the real thing, the underlying event that is the reason for our celebrations, the event of God being born as a little baby. When that happened, light came into the world, a light that cannot be put out. “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (John 1:9) Somehow that light becomes more visible to many of us at Christmas time because that is when we give ourselves the chance to become aware of it. But it really has come into the world, and it is not any less present at all other times of the year. We celebrate the coming of the light now, as much as we can, to be able to live all the more in light of this light all the time. For “no one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light.” (Luke 8:16) It is not just a light for our own path but one that we must share with the world around us.
So when the light in our hearts starts to fade and we throw out the Christmas tree and take down the decorations, let’s remember that Jesus could have been born any day. And he can be born every day in our hearts. “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)