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What if They Only Come at Christmas?
Christmas seemed such a burden—the preparations, the parties, the church packed with once-a-year attendees. How nice not to have to bother. But she did have to bother. She was the preacher!

Every time someone mentions how many more days are left before Christmas I heave a big sigh. It's not uncommon, is it? Everyone feels the tug to be everything and to do everything for all people during the holidays. Cards, cookies, presents, dinner parties, you name it, we feel we need to do it for the sake of having a "perfect Christmas."

When the time came for the children's story, I asked … "What do you think Jesus would say to Santa Claus today?"

For those of us who also observe the Christian traditions of this season there are Advent Festivals, worship services, shepherd costumes and a host of other activities that need to be done if Christmas is to occur.

Last year as the "big day" approached I remember trying to figure out how I was going to get the bulletins to the church, press my daughter's choir robes, wrap some last minute presents and stay awake for two services Christmas Eve, only to wake up to the Christmas morning rush and another service of worship. It is no wonder that Christians groan trying to observe Christmas.

Last year, on Christmas Eve, I found myself resenting those folks who come to our services once or twice a year, looking for a quick fix or an easy answer to this Christmas "thing." They waltz into the sanctuary to enjoy the colour and holiness of the service, only to be absent for another year, or at least until the lilies are firmly planted for the Easter season. How nice it would be, I thought, to simply come to the service and not feel the pressure of Christmas.

The next day, as our girls rushed into the bedroom to awaken us for the opening of presents, I realized that I had forgotten to give them "the speech." "Remember," I said as I looked for my slippers and ran a comb through my hair, "Jesus only got three presents and none of them were toys; so don't be disappointed by what you get."

Later that morning, as we made our way to the smaller church in the charge, I noticed that there was a significantly smaller crowd attending the service than the night before. "Oh," I groaned, "wouldn't it be nice to just come to worship whenever you pleased?"

When the time came for the children's story, I asked those gathered in the front of the chancel, about their morning activities. After they recited a long list of presents which they had received, I asked, "What do you think Jesus would say to Santa Claus today?"

We expected some great theological truth to come forth from the mouths of babes. But my youngest daughter chimed, "Jesus would say, 'How come I only got three presents, and none of them were toys?'"

After my embarrassment subsided, I began to laugh, until tears of joy flowed down my face. It was at that moment that I realized the "joy" of Christmas was in my midst. Whether or not I fulfilled the obligations of Christmas had very little to do with me experiencing this joy; nor did it affect my ability to experience the love of God that so powerfully came to me in Jesus Christ. I realized that the birth of the Christ child had little to do with pageants and social engagements, but a great deal to do with joy. God reaches out to us with joy and love, whether we scramble to create the Christmas trappings or not.

Although I grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the city steeped in religious observances of the season, my only experiences of God came through Christmas services and Easter sunrise communions. Yet, over the years these thin threads to God have become stronger and stronger. My faith became deeper and deeper.

I was one of those who never knew that the carpet or the choir robes (or sometimes the minister) changed between these two seasons. Did anyone look at me with contempt and envy, wishing they could come and go so easily without the pressures of the season?

These few thin threads connected me to the Christian community and, more important, they led me to Jesus Christ. It was through the love of those who didn't grumble at my sporadic attendance, it was through the compassion of those who didn't see themselves as superior or righteous, that I came to know the love of God who came to us in the Bethlehem Babe.

God demands … that you firmly believe that Christ is born for you and that this birth took place for our welfare.

Now, so many years later, my daughter's words reminded me that God's love comes to us in unexpected ways, at times in our lives when we need it the most. In these moments of laughter, I was reminded of those precious thin threads that brought me to experience the boundless joy of knowing Christ. Isn't that the beauty of Christmas—God sent His only Son for us?

Martin Luther once wrote, "The right and gracious faith which God demands is that you firmly believe that Christ is born for you and that this birth took place for our welfare." Those worship experiences of my childhood, though few and far between, helped me to realize that Jesus Christ was born for me, and His birth indeed was for my welfare, my salvation and my abundant life.

When I came to know Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour, I discovered that God alone was the one who would abide with me, care for me, save me, and sustain me in the most difficult moments of my life. Even now, amid the tinsel and wrapping paper, the wrinkled angel costumes, and the Christmas cards on the table, I know that Christ was born for me and nothing else will ever be the same. Those thin threads have become woven into the fabric of my life. They hold me together when life falls apart.

What is my greatest joy this holy season for me? Even when I was hanging on by a thin thread, God did not forget me.

Rev. Sally Longfellow is a minister at Memorial United Church and People's United Church in Ridgeway, Ontario.

Originally published in the Fellowship Magazine, December 1995




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