Faith Works 12-24-16
You will never have another quite like it
In "A Christmas Carol," as the second spirit of the story appears to Ebenezer Scrooge, they have this conversation, beginning with a statement that includes a bit of a question:
"You have never seen the like of me before!" exclaimed the Spirit.
"Never," Scrooge made answer to it.
"Have never walked forth with the younger members of my family; meaning (for I am very young) my elder brothers born in these later years?" pursued the Phantom.
"I don't think I have," said Scrooge. "I am afraid I have not. Have you had many brothers, Spirit?"
"More than eighteen hundred," said the Ghost.
"A tremendous family to provide for," muttered Scrooge.
Nearly another two hundred siblings have come along since Charles Dickens wrote his story. And the Spirit of Christmas Present each year would say "I am unique," and not without cause. There is a distinct family resemblance, but like any other set of brothers, they are each particularly themselves.
When you're young, you have no idea how conservative you are, as tradition has such sway over our likes and dislikes. We expect to do the same things, put up the same decorations, eat the same foods. Some addition is tolerable, but subtraction is usually noticed immediately and disapproved of most completely.
My son is back from his first year of college, and there's a hunger, a deep-seated need to get back some of that familiarity lost in the hurricane of new this fall, so we're grabbing every piece of Christmas with both hands. And I remember now afresh how much I disliked coming home to find changes in the patterns and practices of the season. I wanted everything to be "the way it always was."
And in church, each modification gets extra scrutiny this time of year. One Christmas Eve, a few years ago, I didn't end our candlelight service with "Silent Night." Most have forgiven me by now, but it was not a decision greeted warmly at the time; I've warned I may do it again, but I'm not sure anyone really believes me . . . and with the bicentennial of the carol coming in 2018, it's not going to happen any time soon.
Yet right there is the point: no one sang "Silent Night" with uplifted candles before 1818. It's not something with an unbroken heritage right back to Bethlehem. It just feels that way.
So we make changes to our traditions, but ideally with great care, deep sensitivity, and love in all our choices. Because the thing about any one of our Christmas celebrations is: we'll never see another one like it. Ever.
There are those we will never celebrate the holiday with again, and their memory is present, but that absence changes the shape of the whole event.
Presents, even though we tell each other every year they don't matter, still color our experience of each year's observance. What you got is often a big part of what you remember.
Every occasion of Christmas is different, and you can't replicate one in the next or any other year. And that only makes sense as you think about it.
And it gives us a different way to think about what it means to remember the One whose birth we celebrate each Christmas. Hebrews 13:8 says "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" even as we know each of us encounters him with our own limited understandings, and see him through the lens of our assumptions and expectations, at least until we see more clearly . . . someday.
Wihla Huston wrote the well-known carol "Some Children See Him" in 1954, talking about all the many different ways kids and not a few adults envision Jesus, infant or adult. And I think of that song's closing verse:
"The children in each diff'rent place
Will see the baby Jesus' face
Like theirs but bright with heav'nly grace
And filled with holy light."
There are those similarities running along through our stories of Christmas, and yet like beads on a necklace or links in a chain, each piece has its necessary place. There are the many ways we see Jesus, and there is the common thread weaving all our understandings together "with heav'nly grace."
May this Christmas illuminate your life with the grace of Jesus Christ!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him about how you see the baby of Bethlehem in your own life at email@example.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.