Once upon a time, my Christmases really were like Victorian greeting cards. Back when all ten of us lived in one house, when everyone bought presents for everyone else. (With a little help from our mom, if necessary). There were the secrets in the closet, the anticipation of seeing this person’s face when they saw that thing. Making stockings for our parents. The funny little gifts the littlest children came up with. The hugs. Eating cinnamon rolls and reading the Nativity story together.
Now Christmas isn’t so predictable.
Sometimes I’m with my family; sometimes I’m thousands of miles away.
Sometimes I have a Christmas tree. Sometimes I don’t.
And sometimes I have a carol-singing joyride to Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem, to get one – only to learn that my housemates are allergic, and gleefully give it away to friends who have none.
Sometimes it’s shirtsleeves weather, cypress wreaths, and stone houses. Sometimes it’s the real fragrance of evergreen, and a real white Christmas…
(And once, there was snow in Jerusalem, just two days after Christmas).
Sometimes it’s long on adventure and short on stuff. Like the year my stocking arrived in a tiny box at the post office – and I spent Christmas eve and Christmas morning exploring Bethlehem on foot.
Or the year we got all ten of our selves to Israel for Christmas – and not much else.
Christmas Eve was carols in Jerusalem; Christmas breakfast was pancakes, pomegranates, Swedish tea, Mexican hot chocolate – and the Nativity story.
Sometimes strings of Christmas lights help me feel Advent-wonder. Sometimes it’s Hanukkah candles.
Either way, I know it’s due to the mighty acts of God that there was a Jewish nation into which my Savior could be born. I know it’s thanks to my stubborn, greedy grasp on my own way that He had to lay aside His glory and became the smallest, most invisible form of human life…
Be born ignominiously. Raised in obscurity. Rejected, killed, and ALIVE.
And I know He did it all for sheer joy.
Based on my Christmases past, I know I can’t count on who I’ll have with me, where I’ll be, what I’ll receive, or how I will feel. But one thing is always certain: He is.
He is Emmanuel.
And God-with-us. Is with me.