I got a Hallmark Christmas card from my old college buddy Paul, wishing me the usual happy holiday, and hoping the true meaning of Christmas would be mine. The funny bone gets tickled in little unexpected ways. I laughed out loud and Lory asked what was so funny. I tried to explain why it was amusing. I failed.
I doubt that Paul had any intention of suggesting that he hoped I would finally find the so-called true meaning of Christmas. We were very close buddies in college, and I still consider him one of my closest friends, not because we see one another often, but simply because we made that connection. We talked, and even argued, about religion. We’re close. You know what I mean.
So why did I laugh? It’s not that it was funny, in the sense of being humorous. It just struck me, in that moment, at the end of a day in which I had been working on another Christmas sermon, and had written a Christmas article for the Minuteman.
I opened the Minuteman article with that wonderful line from Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales: “One Christmas was so much like another, in those years…that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
The true meaning of Christmas is all about memory. Memory is subjective, at best. And it’s not all that accurate, in any case. The subjective is what takes place in the mind, unaffected by the external world, what we so often called the real world.
Christmas is about the interior life, which we value above all else. Mine is electrically charged with a mountain of magical memories of Christmas. There are the early childhood memories- the excitement around the Christmas tree under which there was an enormous extravagance of presents. My parents were absolutely and irresponsibly reckless, and I loved them for it, and cherish them because of it. My brothers and sisters and I weren’t spoiled by it- quite the opposite. Quite the opposite! We knew, intuitively, that this was an expression of their love and their wish for our happiness- a happiness neither of them had known, having grown up in extreme poverty. They showed us how to do Christmas for our children, and we do. That mountain of magical memories is filled with Susan’s and Jonathan’s delight around the tree on those precious Christmas mornings past.
What’s the true meaning of Christmas? It’s all in the mind. It’s in the heart. It is the infusion of something we call spirit, or soul, into this mundane, physical, day-to-day existence. It has to do with that illusive-but-essential thing we call love.
In the years before she died we thanked my mother again and again for what she did for us. We told her, over and over, how powerful those Christmas mornings were. She smiled and said, “We had a lot of love. We didn’t have much. But we had love, and that’s the most important thing.”
The true meaning of Christmas is what called me to ministry- the opportunity to give and to receive that thing we call love. It’s as simple, and as real as that. It’s subjective- has little to do with the external world. The war-torn external world is nasty, mean, cruel and competitive. So I wish you a completely wonderful, subjective Christmas. Create it with an extravagance of love. And so, as Tiny Tim observed, “God bless us, every one.”