Christmas is nearly here – and all the stuff that goes with it. If you’re like us, the tree is up, the lights are on, and what’s for dinner is being planned.
But what am I doing to prepare my heart?
It may be only a week until Christmas day, but it’s never too late to:
pick up a bible and begin to read Luke,
pray for the people you might not have had time to send cards to,
pray for the Posties,
the shop assistants,
the families of people who are working long hours right now,
Give donations to organisations who will feed and clothe families this Christmas,
pray for phone counsellors and Crisis Care
for your pastor, community leaders and their families.
And how about popping a Christmas card in the mail box of your neighbour, as a way to introduce yourself and to share Jesus love.
Too late for Christmas preparations? Never.
May the Christ of Christmas fill your hearts this week and always.
A few years ago, my entire side of the family gathered in Brisbane – to visit our brother and family, and to celebrate Christmas together. For three weeks our three generations buzzed around Carl and Kylie’s home, shuffled between the airport, car hire companies, accommodation, shopping centres, and everything else that busy families do at Christmas time in and around Brisbane. Chris’s birthday is just before Christmas, so remembering to celebrate it became my special task.
Chris and I with three of our children house-sat in a home that was perfect for our needs. I discovered they had an extra freezer in their garage so I devised a scheme to make Chris a birthday cake made of ice-cream–his favourite type of birthday cake. The house was across the road from a large supermarket, so it wasn’t too tricky to gather the goods I needed, or to hide them in the garage freezer.
Whenever Chris disappeared, I added another layer to the ice-cream cake. The cake had layers of vanilla and salted caramel icecream with frozen raspberries and blobs of nutella mixed through. I even piped whipped cream over the top, just like one of those birthday cakes you buy from the supermarket.
Several days before the birthday, my sister-in-law Kylie and her daughters called in to spend some time with us.
‘Great!’ I said. ‘It would be so much easier to surprise him if you could take it home with you.’ We smuggled it out to Kylie’s car, safely surrounded in its lined cake tin and snuggled in between layers of ice-packs in a $2.99 Coles cooler-bag.
Chris’s birthday was possibly the funnest birthday he’s had for ages, travelling all around the sights of Brisbane. The entire family planned to get together early in the evening to celebrate. But the timing blew out, as it often does.
During the course of the afternoon, Kylie texted me about several changes of plans. She seemed to be most concerned about Chris’s birthday celebrations. I texted her back – that timing didn’t matter. As long as the cake was okay, all would be good.
As I arrived at Kylie’s later that afternoon, she and my sister Annie were fussing in the kitchen adding the final touches to the cake. They’d gathered inspiration from a Family Circle magazine and the cake had gone from an almost-like-a-supermarket-ice-cream-cake, to ‘A Christopher’s Super Special Deluxe’ with golden toffee castles towering above crushed Crunchie bars, caramelized pop-corn and Maltezers, all smothered in a rich, gooey caramel sauce. I barely recognized it – but was so very proud and thankful of their extra efforts.
The family gathered and sang ‘Happy Birthday.’ Chris blew out the candles, made a wish, and giggles erupted from behind me.
I sat close to Chris while he cut the cake, eager to see the layers. He drew out the first cake wedge. Annie and Kylie hovered above my head still giggling. At the moment that we could see layers, they burst into laughter and retreated to the kitchen.
I followed them, put my hands on my hips and didn’t say a word, except perhaps ‘Don’t you want any cake?’
Kylie blushed and pulled a squirmy face.
‘It was such a hot and busy day when you smuggled that cake into the car,’ she said. ‘I dropped the girls off here, there and everywhere, and we got home really late. The next morning I went to my exercise class, and there, on the floor by the front seat of the car was the Coles cooler bag. It had been there all night.’
Despite the near disaster and an extra-hot Brisbane summer, the ice-cream cake was perfect. Every layer was distinct from every other layer. There were nutella blobs just big enough to melt in your mouth in between spoonfuls of ice-cream and the tangy surprise of miraculously-still-frozen raspberries. And the mountain of gold, chocolate and caramel on top covered a ‘meltitude’ of sins.
Hopefully, Kylie realized long ago that all was forgiven instantly–that’s what Christmas is about. We’re really thankful to her for being a wonderful host …and especially for a great Christmas birthday story.
And, especially that Christmas, we were also thankful to Coles for very effective cooler bags.
Christmas Pageant day was pudding day. As the family had done for years, on the first Saturday in November, they went together to the Christmas pageant on the Saturday morning and then returned home to make the pudding.
Round, huge and destined to be delicious, the pudding hung from the rafters for the next six weeks in preparation for Christmas dinner. The pudding was a constant reminder of the tastes, smells and rituals that the family celebrated each year.
At last the time came for Christmas dinner.
The main course was eaten and enjoyed.
It was time for the pudding.
However, when it came to the ritual of the pudding flambé, the brandy was missing — presumably drunk.
Not to worry! The hostess, being quite resourceful, scoured through her pantry for an equally flammable spirit.
‘Oh that will do!’ she exclaimed as she found a little bottle of spirit at the back of the pantry. She quickly loosened the cap, briefly smelt it and announced, ‘Essence of Lemon’. Thankful that the flambé ritual was saved, she poured the entire contents of the bottle over the pudding in the middle of the dinner table.
By this time someone else had found the matches and then proceeded to ignite the pudding.
Enormous flames engulfed the pudding and very nearly reached the ceiling.
The first casualty was the holly on top of the pudding, which shrivelled into a remnant of its former glory.
The next casualty was the decorative plastic table runner. It melted into a blackened heap and sent off sparks onto the tablecloth, which acquired several random holes and scorch marks.
But the pudding was saved, and, after the fire was out, eventually devoured.
It was only later, during the after-Christmas cleanup, that the source of the extraordinarily energetic flambé was discovered. Somebody else picked up the ‘Essence of Lemon’ bottle, and, using considerably better eye-sight than that of the hostess, read the label.
Fortunately, no ill effects resulted from the accidental ingestion of Citronella-flambéd pudding—apart from an acute case of embarrassment by the hostess.
But all the family agreed that the mosquitoes didn’t seem to bother them as much that summer!
Some of our Christmas memories are like this funny and true story, aren’t they? They are a mixture of tradition and variations on the theme.
Christmas is one of those annual events that bring back many memories — good or bad, depending on our own life experiences.
I know many, many people who hate thinking about Christmas because of the fuss and bother that goes along with it. For some it is the time their family has the biggest arguments.
I know others who love getting together with family and who believe it really is the happiest time of the year. And still others who religiously disappear to the beach to avoid any possible reminder of Christmas.
For many of us, Christmas is one of the saddest times of the year as, for whatever reason, we are separated from our loved ones.
Whether we love or hate Christmas, we tend to develop our own rituals around it — to celebrate it or to avoid it.
I had a sad moment when I spoke about the Christmas pageant with my youngest.
‘Are you going to the pageant this year?’ I asked him, remembering the panic he’d thrown the rest of us into when he decided he was going to the pageant, with or without us. He dressed and headed for the bus while the rest of us were still in bed. He’d never caught the bus by himself before, and he had no idea of where the pageant was. Fortunately, one of his older siblings was able to catch up with him and they went together to the pageant.
But this year, he’s grown up and he gave me the answer every mother dreads, ‘No, I’m too old for the pageant!’
Christmas traditions have their moments. Some we grow out of. Some we never want to lose. Some should perhaps have never been there in the first place. But not all of them help us to focus on Christmas.
What we focus on grows. Focus on the Christmas dinner that isn’t cooked in the way we would do it, and bitterness and jealousy grow. Focus on the relationships that aren’t easy – and Christmas cheer grows into hatred. Focus on Jesus in the manger, and see a king who humbled himself – and our view of Christmas changes.
I went to see my daughter perform in several school plays about the cynical views of Christmas. In one play, Santa’s elves went on strike because of lack of pay and appreciation from a particularly consumerist Santa. But, in the spirit of Christmas, the elves returned to work to perpetuate joy and peace, and demonstrated love that gives and gives, despite the rubbish that bad-Santa dealt out.
In every play, peace and goodwill (eventually) overcame the evil and cynicism, and left the audience with several challenges on which to ponder.
It reminded me that my attitude towards Christmas could be like that of the grumpy, greedy Santa, or that of the elves who chose to love anyway.
Christmas is about true love—not the wishy-washy, sterile variety we see on the movies that leaves us with a fuzzy hope for a ‘happily ever after’.
It’s about Mary putting herself in a precarious place for the rest of humanity.
It’s about Joseph saying ‘Yes’ to a dream that told him to marry the girl who was in trouble in the eyes of her people.
It’s about Jesus — the one who was there in the beginning of creation, humbling himself to become one of us, in the lowliest form possible — a baby in an animal’s feed trough.
It’s about the love that is messy; the love that hurts; the love that overcomes the pain; the love that hurts most when somebody else is hurting; the love that makes you want to go through the pain yourself so your loved one doesn’t have to.
It’s about us putting God’s love ahead of our embarrassment and risking life itself to give God’s love to others.
It’s about Jesus giving up his crown to live like us, with us, for us — for always.
As we draw closer to Christmas, may you be truly blessed with a new way of seeing Christmas, and a new understanding of the love that never ends.
Special thanks to the teller of the story – who shall remain anonymous to protect the identity of the not-so-innocent.
Previously published in The Lutheran, December 2010 edition.