Christmas elicits so many emotions. For many people, these emotions are negative. There can be great loneliness, embarrassment, or shame when loved ones or traditions to share are few. There can be great sadness when memories flood our minds of loved ones no longer with us to celebrate.
What makes Christmas “the most wonderful time of the year” for many others is the glow of positivity surrounding the holiday. For me personally, I remember the excitement of opening presents when I was young – and how my anticipation led me to hunt for where they might be hidden, and lose sleep the night before having the opportunity to open them. Holiday lights, Christmas cookies, mulled wine, pageants, and concerts all fill me with cozy feelings laced with history. Looking through the cards we have received thus far this year, I am struck by references to “joy,” “peace,” “love,” “cheer,” and “merriness.”
A couple of years ago, though, I had an experience that changed the way I think about the meaning of Christmas. I was attending a Christmas Eve service at a church that my family and I had recently started attending. The service was organized differently from what I had expected, with alternating readings and songs.
With daytime light still pouring through the stained glass, the beginning readings provided a kind of historical background to the Christmas story. In the longest rendition of the story, the Gospel of Luke mentions how the shepherds were “terrified” when an angel appeared to announce the birth of the Savior. When they later spread the word, the villagers were “amazed” at what was said.
The music complemented these readings. We sang “O Holy Night,” and I noted that listeners were encouraged to “fall on your knees.” As the sun set, the sanctuary became dark, and I realized that there were hundreds of candles surrounding me. We sang “Silent Night,” and I felt undercut by the lyric that “shepherds quake at the sight.” The beauty of it all overwhelmed me; I had goosebumps, and tears poured down my face. My soul felt refreshed and rejuvenated by the meaningfulness of the worship. I can remember this moment like it was yesterday.
Perhaps more than any other emotion, awe lies at the heart of the meaning of Christmas. My hope is that you may experience a whiff of this experience during your traditions and celebrations this season. Merry Christmas!