BY Joanie Butman
I wrote this right before Christmas with every intention of posting on the 28th as a follow up to An Imperfect Christmas. Amongst the confusion of holiday celebrations and a houseful of guests, it got put on the back burner where it’s been simmering ever since. Still, I think it’s worth passing along because so many of us tend to put “Christmas” away with the decorations. Think of it as a belated Christmas card. Coming from a family where my mother eventually decided to just keep her tree up year round, you're never 'too late' for Christmas. I am perilously close to embracing her tradition.
Christmas is a gift that keeps on giving but only when you carry it in your heart throughout the year as Scrooge learned, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” I know it seems after the fact, but I think it’s a good reminder not to box up the most important gift you will ever receive and only take it out for a few weeks every year. That thought was confirmed when I presented this blog to my partners who thought it was too late. “Christmas feels like it was some time ago” was one comment, which is exactly my point. So, even if it is late in the telling, here’s my message.
Based on the number of responses to my Imperfect Christmas article, I think it’s safe to say that the Christmas crazies is a universal phenomenon – especially amongst women who go to great lengths creating Christmas memories and traditions for their families. One response, however, reminded me of a Christmas past that by worldly standards should have been the mother of all imperfect Christmases. Yet strangely enough, it was my best Christmas. I was amazed that I had forgotten to include this particular Christmas crisis when writing that blog. It was seven years ago when I found myself on Christmas Eve getting a biopsy of what turned out to be a 10” malignant tumor. How easy it is to forget what God has done for us in the past and adopt a “What have you done for me lately?” attitude.
Coincidentally, here I was on December 23rd once again sitting at Sloane surrounded by patients in varying degrees of pain and despair. It was standing room only in the vast waiting area – a vivid reminder that suffering doesn’t take holidays. Whatever minor inconveniences I complained about in my previous essay paled in comparison to the issues these people faced. Shame on me.
Earlier in the day as I ran for the train, I blindly grabbed a book to keep me busy during the commute and long hours of waiting. I opened to the first page and got goose bumps as it was the story of the author’s first ‘real’ Christmas, and it took place in a cancer ward. Godwink! It began, “It was the type of experience that makes you wish Christmas was celebrated all year long, the kind that makes people forget about life’s imperfections and focus instead on its greatest treasures. For me it was a defining moment, one that has shaped and molded the very fabric of my soul.”*
His message mirrored my own sentiments in regard to my first ‘real’ Christmas experience seven years ago – one that changed me forever. Without a doubt, facing your own mortality makes the meaning of Christmas that much more relevant. It was uncertain during that infamous Christmas whether I’d even be around for another so I decided to make the most of the one at hand. When you’ve got nothing else but Christ, the beauty and miracle of Christmas becomes tangible in a new and wondrous way. Arriving at Christmas with your only desire being to receive the gift of Christ is as perfect as any Christmas can get. And it was despite my circumstances.
Fast forward seven years and here I sat in a sea of suffering, regretting my last cranky blog about the holidays. I felt so unworthy. Why was I a picture of health when by all accounts I shouldn’t even be here? I can’t answer that question, but can tell you that recognizing your own unworthiness is key to understanding the enormity of the true meaning of Christmas, which isn’t confined to a specific date or season. God’s gift of His son and His message of salvation by grace is based on the fact that none of us ‘deserve’ it. Grace is a gift that can’t be earned. We’re all on the naughty list whether you choose to acknowledge that reality or not. As I looked around at my neighbors, I clung to the hope and promise of Christ that “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
I left that day with a heavy heart overflowing with gratitude to be able to experience another Christmas and chastising myself for getting uptight over insignificant details. I also finished my book on the way home. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day. One full of reminders to take Christmas and “embed it deep in my heart where the distractions and disappointments of life can’t enter, where the worldly can look but not touch, and where the rich in spirit can come and go at will.”*
Choose to keep Christmas in your heart all year.
*The Paper Bag Christmas, Kevin Alan Milne