The Christmas sales and marketing machine seems to crank into action earlier every year. Unlike the first Christmas, its onset is not obscure or hidden in a cave. Instead, we have substituted glitzy packaging, neon lights, frenzied shopping, and blaring music for the Real Deal, who came at no cost to us but at a great price to Himself. Oddly, in spite of the annual clamor, the glitz and hoopla from Christmases past have evaporated from my memory. What remains is nostalgia for the sweeter, quieter moments I treasured from year to year: a steaming mug of hot chocolate in a darkened room by the glowing lights of our family tree; candlelight service at church with everyone singing “Silent Night” after the organ fell silent; the anticipation of snow; ample tastes of my mother’s spritz cookie dough; special times of opening the gifts together as a family.
Oddly enough, although my father worked for a premier manufacturer of high-quality ornaments and our tree was laden with beautiful decorations (and plenty of not-so-beautiful homemade ones we children had fashioned), one of my favorite decorations was a centerpiece my mother put on the dining room table every year. It featured deer in a snowy forest, and, to me, it was magical. As an adult, I was shocked to see the deer centerpiece recently in a closet at my parents’ home: the base was made of plaster of Paris, the deer were plastic, real twigs had been inserted into the plaster base to resemble trees, and the entire creation had been sprayed with white paint and silver glitter. It was far from the magical snow scene I had remembered from my childhood. Two lessons from these memories have distilled over the years in my heart. First, the things that captivate us are often not what we think they are; what appears valuable, or even magical, may ultimately disappoint us. Secondly, the things that are dearest in our memories are not those things that are have the greatest financial worth.
This year again, as I contemplate the holiness and gravity of what happened that first Christmas — the entry of Jesus the Messiah, Immanuel (God-With-Us) in such a simple package, an animal’s feeding trough –, the hollow cacophony of commercial holiday clamor contrasts sharply with the ultimate miracle: God in human flesh, born to die for all of us, while we were completely unaware of His entrance. I pray that I will “prepare Him room” and will be increasingly aware of the Presence of the Bread of Life in the manger of my heart. May our holy-days not be hollow; may the One who fills all in all (see Ephesians 1:23) deliver us from the emptiness of marketing mania and refresh us with Himself!