U p the street from our house is an elaborately decorated home, truly beyond description. People come from all over to see it and hear it—there is even a caroling soundtrack. And if that weren’t enough, the family makes decorative changes or additions every few days. It even made the local news.
Then there is our house. My neighbor commented recently on why I don’t decorate my bushes more lavishly as I did in years past, or at least light the wreath on our front door. I have promised to do some more decorating, but it certainly won’t compare to the miracle up the street.
Before I head out with another strand of lights, though, I have to ask: What’s Christmas about, anyhow? Is it about Christmas decorations? Is it about presents, parties, and Santa Claus? Or maybe it’s about time off from work and that end-of-the year bonus?
And what happens when we turn the page on December to welcome a New Year? Do we say, “That’s that,” and forget about it until next year?
As I contemplate these questions I turn to Christmas past—my past, that is. In my childhood in Cincinnati where I was raised, Christmas was also very special, but perhaps shorter in duration. My father and grandfather were both ministers, as were other members of the extended family, which meant they looked at the meaning of Christmas through different eyes. For one thing, preparing for Christmas was not about putting up lights; in fact, it was quite “dark,” a time of contemplation, reflection, and anticipation.
A month before Christmas, the doors to our dining room and living room were taped and nailed shut. The front door that opened into them was also sealed off. It was dark and tomblike in there, but clearly something was happening.
Yet, when I stole a peek through a crack in the door, I could see no Christmas tree or lights, not a glimmer of a decoration. All I saw was darkness.
Then on Christmas Eve, we kids, and Mom and Dad, would gather in my parents’ bedroom upstairs. My father read Luke’s beautiful story of the birth of Jesus. Then, the front doorbell would ring and ring, and we’d run down the stairs.
The doors that had been locked stood wide open. The Christmas tree, ablaze with lights, illuminated the room. Everywhere were brightly colored wrapped presents, and a model train ran on its track at the base. Stockings were hung on the fireplace mantel—proof that Santa Claus had been there.
Childhood excitement got the better of me then. But now, looking back on that sweet and distant time, I can appreciate the metaphor and meaning of those doors to Christmas that were finally open. There was no more darkness—only light.
As I look back, I can also see that perhaps those locked doors represent our hearts. It takes the miracle of Christmas to open them wide—to let in the light and gifts of grace that are truly life changing. Only by unlocking those doors can we open ourselves to genuine care and compassion for each other. For everyone.
Today, as I write on this fourth Sunday of advent, the doors are locked. But soon, oh so soon, the Christ Child will come with the key to unlock our hearts and open our lives. And we will be forever changed.
A Merry and Blessed Christmas to all.