Christmas Comes But Once a Year

The days after Christmas can be a bit of a let down. In fact, some studies show that as many as 1 in 4 people experience mild to full-blown depression after the holidays. The presents have been exchanged and the wrapping paper wadded up and thrown away. If it hasn’t happened already, the trees and the stockings that you decorated and hung so carefully will be taken down. The anticipation and excitement have passed. The nights will no longer be pierced by strings of lights. And the daily routines will soon return.

Pastor and Poet Ann Weems writes about boxing the nativity. “I must admit to a certain guilt about stuffing the Holy Family into a box in the aftermath of Christmas.” She describes each of them –the shepherds wearing dull brown with three sheep in bad repair, the Wise Ones with their gifts intact but missing one of the back legs of the standing camel and the ear of the sitting camel, Joseph holding what’s left of his staff after a too-tight hug from a child 20 years ago and wearing the same dull brown as the shepherds, Mary dressed eternally in blue, gazing adoringly through slightly smudged features, and the Child, permanently affixed to his cradle, always packed last, upside down to avoid the crush of the lid.

What if, this year, we don’t stuff the nativity back in its box?

What if we carry with us into our daily routines the wonder we have as we sing “Silent Night” in the candlelight? God has humbled himself to be born as one of us. He wasn’t born with a halo or a crown. And he wasn’t permanently affixed to his manger. Luke tells us he grew and became strong and wise. He learned to crawl and walk and talk. He had friends and played games. He learned his father’s carpentry business. He took care of his mother, Mary, after Joseph died. He spent most of his life experiencing the joys and challenges that are common to us all. The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus’ development in this way, “Though he was God’s Son, he learned trusting-obedience by what he suffered, just as we do. Then, having arrived at the full stature of his maturity and having been announced by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who believingly obey him.” In just two short weeks, we will turn our focus from the manger to the Jordan River. Jesus will go from infant to 30 years old as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and spend the rest of the year focused on his three years of teaching and ministry. What if, this year, we hold that baby in the nativity scene a moment longer before we stuff it back in the box and wonder at the gift that Jesus was fully divine and fully human?

What if we carry with us into our daily routines the joy we have when we sing “Joy to the World” on Christmas Eve? The Psalmist sings, “Praise the Lord! All creation, praise your maker. Praise the Lord, from the heights of the sun, moon, and stars and the depths of the sea. The earth and the creatures that roam, creep, and fly, and all people – kings and princes, young men and maidens, old men and children – Let them praise the name of the Lord! He has raised up a horn for his people!” What does that mean? In Hebrew a “horn” represented strength and honor. God has raised up a strong, honorable one for his people. This vulnerable child whose birth we celebrate is the Messiah, our Savior. What if, this year, we pause each morning, day after day to hum a few bars of “Joy to the world! The Lord has come!”

What if we carry with us into our daily routines the love we share when we are generous at Christmas? In 1936 an animated short film about an orphanage on Christmas Day was released. The orphans woke up excited that their stockings were filled, only to have each of their toys fall apart. An inventor, Professor Grampy, heard the children crying as he passed by; he went home and made each of them toys and returned in a Santa Suit to celebrate Christmas with the children, creating a winter wonderland of snow from cotton batting and shaved soap and a rotating tree made from umbrellas and a record player. The title of the short film is “Christmas Comes But Once a Year.” Unfortunately, the phrase has come to mean that you can make an effort to help the less fortunate at Christmas because, after all, it only happens once a year. What if Christmas doesn’t have to only come once a year, though? Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s coming. Christ is always coming – if we will welcome him, if we will recognize him in the lost, the broken, the hungry, the prisoner.

I am reminded of Charles Dickens’ character, Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly, bitter rich man, who is taken on a journey on Christmas Eve to gaze into his own Christmases past, present, and future. Scrooge is completely transformed by the experience and declares, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

Christmas doesn’t have to be over, if we don’t pack away the wonder and joy and love with the nativity. What if, Christmas doesn’t come but once a year? What if, instead, we linger a little longer as we pack away the shepherds? The shepherds returned to their daily routines, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Now the work of Christmas begins. And perhaps the most important question of Christmas remains to be answered, “How will you be different for this trip to Bethlehem to see the baby lying in the manger?”