I have many fond memories of past childhood Christmases as well as those spent with our own children (now grown and on their own). Children possess both a joyous anticipation and an enduring sense of wonder over the Christmas season.
Of course, not all this wonder and anticipation grows from the soil of pure motives. Getting as many gifts as possible always lurks just below the surface. And yet, many much more important things helped point our hearts in the right direction, bringing a genuine sense of joy and true anticipation: the spiritual rhythms of advent season at church, the Christmas eve candlelight service, the singing of carols, rituals of tree acquisition and decoration, special indoor and outdoor ornamentations, extended times of fun and fellowship with family and friends, cookie baking and eating, special meals, foods, and movies, the reading of the Christmas story, and so much more. These holiday traditions afforded a deep sense of Christian grounding and identity in a world filled with bitterness and fear.
Too often in my adult years, however, the only sense of anticipatory joy is born of the hope that Christmas will soon be over so a “normal” pace of life can be restored. Somehow in the rush to make Christmas memorable, I often forget to make it meaningful in all the right ways. That sense of wonder and hope, so prevalent in childhood, is often nearly lost.
Not only this, the challenges of life in a fallen world keep forcing me to come face-to-face with the realities of living a world marred by sin. More importantly, they continually reveal the many ugly and dark aspects of my own soul. I find it harder and harder to escape the obvious sins, scars, and dysfunctions that seemed much easier to brush aside in youth. But while the demands of the Christmas season can easily make us jaded and cynical in ways that push away any deep sense of joy, wonder, or hope, it is still possible to experience these things once again.
When Simeon took eight-day-old Jesus in his aged arms, he offered thanks to God this way: “My eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.” Simeon’s faith-filled and joyous hope helped him see that God’s coming salvation for the whole world was somehow bound up in this holy Infant. Reading the rest of the astonishing story, we see this truth ever more clearly, that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.
Hope and joy may be in short supply these days, but when we take Jesus in our arms and gaze amazed upon Him once again, we can recapture that sense of joyous hope that our gracious God will wondrously save and restore all who hope and trust in Him.