Christmas has changed a lot for me through the years. As a child, we opened presents on Christmas Eve so we could wake up early and go to my grandparents’ house for another celebration. After more presents and at least one large meal, we would jump in the car and drive down to Florida for our third Christmas at the other grandparents’ house. I don’t remember the presents, but between the three celebrations, I know there were plenty of them.
After we moved to Florida, it was only a few years before my parents felt God was leading them overseas as missionaries. I don’t really remember Christmas in Guatemala. I think my dad and I were stateside during the Holidays as they raised money to adopt my favorite little person who would become my little sister. I am sure my parents made sure we had presents, even though we were apart. Somehow it didn’t seem as important any more. The years to follow involved creative ways to be together and even some years where we weren’t. One year, my brother and I went to Honduras to spend Christmas with our parents and another year we took our grandmother to lunch at a hole in the wall diner so neither one of us would have to cook. It varied from year to year, but was never the same as the early years when we all celebrated together and there was more food and presents than any of us needed.
Many families have very specific Christmas traditions, including things like decorations, Christmas goodies, matching pjs, and even the process of giving and receiving gifts. But because of my many years of non-traditional Christmas seasons, I have never stressed about traditions. I have always tried to at least allow the kids to be home on Christmas morning so we could have a big morning of presents and time together. My husband always makes sure that the kids have hot cocoa to drink while they watch all of their favorite Christmas movies. The tree is always decorated and the stockings always hung. And in the center of the room, the manger scene is placed for all to see.
Some years we take trips instead of exchanging presents. These Christmases are some of my favorites, not just because I don’t have to stress over buying presents, but because of the memories made while traveling. The younger kids use their imaginations and explore their surroundings. The older kids play games and share stories. Somehow there is always some kind of mild disaster that stresses us out at the time, but makes us laugh like crazy later. I seriously love going on vacation with my family. The hours in the car with all the whining, arguing, and obnoxious behaviors is totally worth it because of the fun, laughs, and memories.
Tonight, I am sitting with the kids as they watch the Polar Express and drink their hot cocoa. I am making mental lists of things that I need to get done before Christmas. I am thinking about goodies to bake, chores to be done, and how quick Amazon can deliver my stocking stuffers. As I sit here, staring at the manger scene on the table, I begin to think about the journey that the wise men took thousands of years ago. It was like the ultimate Christmas vacation. They traveled a great distance to see Jesus and to worship Him, they even brought Him gifts. The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were not just gifts that they chose haphazardly because they couldn’t think of anything else to give or because it was left over after everyone else received their gifts. Those gifts all had specific meaning. Gold was a gift that would have been given to a king or to royalty. Jesus is the King of Kings. Frankincense has a smell or aroma that was associated with ceremonial worship of a deity, supreme being, or of a god. Jesus is the Lord of Lords. Myrrh is a fragrant spice used as incense and as a perfume or anointing oil. Myrrh was specifically used in preparing bodies for burial and was used in the temple to prepare for sacrifices. Jesus was born to be the ultimate sacrifice.
As cool as it is to think about the gifts the wise men brought, it is even more intriguing to think about the determination behind their travels. Think about it- when you traveled in Bible times, it was not in a comfortable 15-passenger van or an SUV with reclining seats. They sat on camels and walked for hours at a time. It had to be a very difficult journey. That’s how determined they were to see Jesus. They went all that way to worship the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Personally, I think they came with an expectation of great things. I think they came into that place with an attitude of worship, reverence, respect, affection and love. They came all that way knowing that they would never be the same. They came with an energy and an eagerness.
My mind quickly turns to how the car ride is when my family is on the way to church. We are on our way to worship, but we are in quite a different state in our little minivan. We have kids arguing, kids fighting, at least one person on their phone, and there is almost always some type of ultimatum being given in regards to behavior. We literally live twenty minutes from church and we can barely make it there without someone getting angry about something. It makes it difficult to be in the right frame of mind when you get there.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if we went to church with that same expectancy that the wise men had when they went to worship Jesus? What if we were so determined to be in His presence that we were willing to travel long and far? What if we were willing to be uncomfortable and even had to really work at getting there? What if we knew that when we got there, we would never be the same?
I remember going to special church services in Venezuela and Guatemala. The people would come to church by the busload. They were sitting four to a seat and some were even standing in the aisles. The services were often outside and there weren’t enough chairs for everyone. But still the people came from long and far. I remember how they worshiped. They were all in. There was nothing holding them back. They weren’t worried about hitting the right notes when they sang. They weren’t worried about being in tune or too loud. They sang at the top of their lungs and it was one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard. They came expecting. They came knowing that they would encounter Jesus and never be the same.
I know my truck-load of kids will continue to make the ride to church a loud and interesting twenty minutes. But I want to take the time to put a little more thought into the opportunities that I have to worship Jesus. I want to think about the gifts that I bring to Him, are they chosen haphazardly out of what’s left over- or am I giving Him my best? I want to come into His presence expecting and eager to meet Him there. I want to teach my kids about the privilege that we have to come together and corporately worship and help them understand the importance of being in His presence. I want to come into His presence and spend time just showing my love and adoration to my Savior. I want to be just as determined as the wise men were so many years ago when they were purposeful in their giving and in their worship.
In the many stages of my life, Christmas has been celebrated in so many different ways. But I pray that I will always take the time to think about the real reason we celebrate Christmas. I pray that I will always take the time to remind my children about the details surrounding the birth of our Savior. And I pray that I will always remember the wise men and think about their opportunity to be in the presence of Jesus, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.