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The Meanings of Christmas

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Merry Christmas. The wind is blowing and the snow is falling here in the upper Midwest and it looks like we'll have a white Christmas for sure, and I wouldn't trade it for a Caribbean vacation even though my snow blower blew a key (plastic) part recently. The snowmobiling crowd is happy again, and I didn't hear any stories this season about deer hunters trekking the woods in T-shirts as sometimes happens. "Global Goring," as Al Gore has led me to pun it, looks more and more the myth. And why not? It is a myth. But you never know. About ten years ago, Fall was so warm here in Michigan that we played tennis outdoors in perfect weather until December 14. I remember the date because I didn't shake the tennis elbow miseries that hit me that sunny but cold day until the following August.

It looks as though I'll be spending Christmas by myself this year, but no regrets nor will it be the first time either. I sat through several Christmases overseas, typically alone in a room eating soup out of a can and reflecting on how some of the good old things of life gradually change unexpectedly, especially when you're reminiscing about childhood Christmases. I experienced one Christmas day of two in Viet Nam with a weapon at my side, though I never came anywhere close to having to use it. But to many of the "boys" reading this, the opposite was true for them, and in spades. For those of you fellow VN era vets, I'm glad the Lord brought you back home to fight the fight here as civilians.

Forty years have gone by since then and, wouldn't you know, it just happens to "seem like yesterday." We hear that cliché often but don't know what it really means until we're rounding the far turn past the last pole and headed for home. And yes, I wish I had read the book of Ecclesiastes many decades earlier than I did. In fact, I wish someone had thrown me to the ground when I was 12, sat on me, and read it to me...twice, or whatever it took. There's far too much wheel reinventing going on in this world if you ask me, while all the while the Bible sits there patiently saying; "Here I am. Read me." To you fellow Viet Nam vets and others deployed in hot spots around the world, here's to a Merry Christmas for you since it's one you should be enjoying. That's because you have our gift of thanks for what you're doing over there and the spirit you're displaying. I was very sad when Viet Nam fell because it seemed that much good was being done among the people, and we were just a hair away from success. I was glad to be a part of it. Interesting how our own fellow countrymen back home did as much as they did to ruin the effort. But, oh well, Merry Christmas to them, too. They have their own spiritual struggles, and we really should be praying for them, not grousing. You and I have peace in our hearts that they likely would pay money to have. As for peace, John Calvin put it this way: "Accursed is that peace of which revolt from God is the [center], and blessed are those contentions by which it is necessary to maintain the kingdom of Christ."

Christmas as a kid for me was just like yours with a couple of special memories. I recall the time in the second or third grade when I took a dollar bill with me "uptown" to the dollar store to buy presents. Maybe mom had said it was up to me that year, and she wasn't going to be doing my shopping for me. With the dollar I bought 5 presents and a pack of gum for me. Mom got a pin, dad a handkerchief, and (looking back) my poor sister got the cheapest looking ring. It was made out of an ovoid bubble of red glass with a tiny piece of plain glass the size of a B-B for the diamond. Grandma got a purple vial (with fancy tassel) of Evening in Paris liquid (20 cents for that).

Other Christmases fade and merge into memories less vivid, except for one potential "Rosebud" type recall. The thing we loved doing every December was to put a small, rectangular mirror on the dining room buffet table. The wads of bulk cotton we placed all around it did the job for snow and the little people we placed on the mirror surface were supposed to be skaters. I think there were a couple of tiny houses, too. Disney could not match it. I forget what kind of regular sled I owned, but it didn't say "Rosebud" on it. A something-Flyer no doubt. Also special and a source of some pride were the Bible-based Christmas carols our large family sang on Christmas Eve as a group of about two dozen made their way around my grandparents' city. There were four carols, all written in the 19th century by a great grandfather and sung for years in his home in England before they were brought over here. Strangely, and sadly, they are no longer sung. The large family dwindled.

Funny though, about those relatives back then. They were all "real big into church," but otherwise never wore that fact much on their sleeves. We never missed church (what a pain) and of course there were the visiting missionaries, but no emphasis on applying the Bible to everyday life. I guess one's opinions (convictions?) about religion in those days were akin to birds and bees type stuff and medical operations; such private matters just weren't discussed. One of my granddads would pray before Sunday meals (often with heartfelt emotion) until you'd almost lose your appetite, but after that, mum was the word. True, those folks would probably have been heavily influenced by American pietism, but I don't know why that would force them to think they needed to be silent about Christ; which they pretty much were. It seemed to be the norm then, town wide.

No, there wasn't much of Christ in our Christmases. Nevertheless He was there all the time as I finally learned. We "celebrate" his birth on the 25th even though the true historical details have been famously re-worked for the restless natives. But that's fine and it's a nice holiday. Where the Christmas focus needs to be once again is on His life during those final three years and on His miraculous resurrection. It's true that "all the armies that ever marched; all the navies that ever sailed, and all the parliaments that ever reigned put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as has that one solitary life." Why is that? His teachings? Yes. His patience with his friends? Yes. His valiant death? Yes. But more than that was that He was the actual creator God walking on earth! What more do we need? He dwelt among us and our hands (by proxy) handled Him. Then He rose from the dead in such a well-proven way that historians still can do naught but honor it, just as they honor the fact that today is December 24, 2008.

And, on which day, I'm wishing all American Vision readers a Merry Christmas. A special one, too, for all those serving overseas as they guard against foreign enemies. And an extra-special greeting to all homeschoolers and to all those thinking about launching out in that vital task. As un-Christmas-like as it sounds; you homeschooling parents are the ones preparing the next generation of Christian soldiers. They'll be the ones guarding us from and, in time, overcoming-and, who can believe we have to say this-domestic enemies of a political type. But we can't wish the fact away; such a faction exists and they're driven. You parents (your kids, too) are the caliber of warriors deserving of domestic Silver Stars for what you need to do and are doing in this looming battle.

Meanwhile none of us is ever alone on Christmas day. He is risen, and He is with us. A great thing really. God bless you.

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