My dear friend Beth Royal shared this picture on Facebook the day after Christmas. Along with it she expressed this:
Cleaning up after the merry mayhem. Yep. Pouty lip. Came across this forgotten, crumpled coloring book in the bottom of the toy basket. Sigh...this is pretty much how it feels the day "after." All over 'til next year, and I am always sad at this... need a hug and maybe some cocoa and cookies or chocolate babka will help. Snow would help too…
When I read that I hated to admit it, but she was right (she usually is). The day after Christmas annually ushers in one of the grandest letdowns known to man, with the possible exception of Santa's sudden drop from Tim Allen's roof in the movie "The Santa Clause".
As a Christian who celebrates the birth of our Savior on Christmas day, I feel somewhat guilty confessing the post-Christmas emotional hangover. Christmas is the day, after all, when we recognize Christ's arrival on earth. You would think the celebration would only build from there. But too often - it doesn't. It's set aside with the ornaments and decorations and thought of very little until this time next year.
I've reflected on that the past couple of days. Why is that? What I've come up with is I think we're all children at heart when it comes to Christmas. We get caught up in the presents and pageantry, both abundant this time of the year. That's not such a bad thing if we find a way to look far enough beneath the wrapping paper and aren't totally blinded by the flicker of Christmas lights to see the baby in the manger. Because it is that baby, not the presents, lights, ornaments, and Christmas plays that will carry our joy into the new year. And beyond.
So today I'm taking a look back on my Christmas. Making sure I see Jesus in places where he might have been buried in the shadows of celebration. And also where he was standing in plain sight, just to remind myself he's still standing there if only this coming year I'll take the time to stop and recognize him.
This past year I was part of a group of people associated with New Song church who read the entire New Testament of the bible. At the Christmas Eve service last week, Pastor Mark read the final chapter of Revelation, allowing many of us to conclude our year of reading together. There was something special about that, especially weaved in with Pastor Chad's Christmas message and beautifully sung songs like Hallelujah. Many times throughout that service I had tears in my eyes. My heart filled with joy. Driving home that night I challenged myself to remain aware that joy is there every day for the taking, even if some days we have to seek it out, lean on faith more than we do other days.
But that's the easy place to spot Christ, especially at Christmas time. At church. In the bible. But what about the other parts of Christmas where we have to work a little harder to see His face.
Like in a Christmas card a friend sent us this year. It was a special card among the many we received. Not because I like this person more - although he's a pretty likable guy - but because of how much of his heart I could see and feel while holding that card. It's also a friend I've known less than a year. Only been in his company twice. We were brought together by a tragedy this year that took the life of someone neither of us knew. When I say all of that out loud it seems improbable. When I look at the image below, though, just one of the four sections of the card that Tracey Outlaw personally designed and colored and had printed and sent out to nearly 500 people, and I see our boys names printed on two of the presents atop Santa's sleigh, I'm reminded that God works in some pretty powerful ways. He forges unexpected friendships from the most unthinkable beginnings and uses those relationships for much more than piling up Facebook likes and expanding our holiday card collections. He uses them to share his love.
The death I referenced above was that of Meg Menzies, a mother of three young kids, all our kids' ages. Through her death, I came to look at my wife Katie differently. Especially this Christmas. I was much more mindful of all she does to make our kids' Christmases special. Whether it's the stories she read, the gifts she bought - not to mention her determination to make them be seen as and stay as "Santa's" gifts - the crafts she helped the boys make, the Santa Letters they wrote together, the coloring pages she printed out - the list just goes on and on and on. She brings the spirit of Christ to our Christmas. And come the day after Christmas, she will still be here. She is a gift to find the Christmas joy in each and every day.
I'm grateful that in Katie I see a continuation of the same kind of Christmas joy I grew up in. Christmas was always a big deal with my family. Living so far away from them now, though, we don't always get to see them this time of the year. But the memories - many of them 50 years old now - are priceless. And so I know when they boys do get time with family, and we're blessed to be near Katie's parents - we are etching in their minds gifts that don't get shoved in closet corners or donated to Goodwill six months after Christmas has passed. We are giving them treasures that will remind them of the true meaning of Christmas all year. God established the importance of family early in creation. He has shown up in family every day since, even long after Christmas day has passed.
My final thought is that sometimes we don't have to look for Christ. He just shows up in unexpected places and times - if we'll just pay attention.
I am friends with Meg's husband, Scott, now the single father of those three young children. Many times this past month I thought about the challenge Christmas had to be throwing his way. Balancing the sadness of missing his wife with the obligation he was feeling to make sure his kids felt the magic so unique to children this time of the year. Meg, like Katie, had always been the wand in their family that made so much of that magic appear. Seemingly out of nowhere.
I was sitting in my chair Christmas night when a message from Scott popped up. His daughter, Skye, had received the pedicure kit he knew was coming her way. He'd told me before Christmas he was a bit worried that since he'd let her experiment on his toes before, she'd be wanting to do a professional number on them when the professional kit arrived. Imagining that potential scene, painted all the more colorful by Scott's obvious fear of this particular side of the ghost of Christmas future, had me laughing for days. But not nearly as hard as I did when he shared these pictures.
When I saw these pictures I laughed so hard I cried. Maybe because I'd seen Scott so many times before in his police uniform, gun by his side. The toenails were suddenly a comical insertion in that image.
But then I simply cried. The Christmas magic in Skye's eyes and painted across those toes like ten tiny ornaments said her father had pulled off the impossible. Where the Christmas spirit had every right to be silent and black it was ringing out in a chorus of Christmas colors and the unmatchable smile of a daddy's little girl. At just the right time that baby in a manger showed up in a dad's heart. With equally perfect timing these pictures showed up in mine to say - He's got this.
It was a great story to bring Christmas Day to a close. It was God's way of saying, yes, Christmas is over, but the joy of the season doesn't have to be. If you can see me turning darkness to smiles, if you can see me winding Christmas magic through wives and grandmothers and friends into the hearts of you and your children, then you can have Christmas joy every day.
Even when the manger scenes have all been put away, we can still visit the manger.