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A Four-Fold Christmas Strategy

Dear LifeSharers,                                                             December 2013

            Of all the popular sayings that Claire and I work hard to refute, one of the most dispiriting and irreligious is the old adage, “Christmas is for kids.”

            Oh my, no. Christmas is way too big, way too important to relegate to kids alone. After all, the Advent of the Savior, as the angel explained to the shepherds outside Bethlehem, is “good news of a great joy which shall be for all people.” Get that? All people. That means adults as well as kids.

            My childhood Christmases were magical indeed and I loved every bit of Christmas — more than any kid I knew. But, as the years of my teenage angst and rebellion wore on, the magic of Christmas wore off. By the tender age of 18, I was as rascally a reprobate and humbug as Ebenezer Scrooge himself.  But, by the ever-abundant grace of God, I found the path to the manger the following year. And, as countless lost and dying pilgrims have in ages past, I too surrendered to God’s mighty love. I believed in Christ’s Incarnation. I rejoiced in the merciful salvation which His death purchased for me. And I started a life of telling the magnificent truth that the angel bid the shepherds to do. As the carol puts it, I joined “the triumph of the skies” by proclaiming that Jesus Christ, the long-promised Lamb of God had come to take away the sin of the world.

            And, although the Bible compels us to “preach the Word in season and out,” I must admit that Claire and I experience a special thrill as we do so at this particular time of the year. In various ways and in various places (at home, the neighborhood, several senior care facilities, at the abortion mill, on the web pages and blog, at church, and so on), we enjoy and defend and proclaim Christmas.

            Want a few tips of how we go about doing that? We actually have a formula, a deliberate four-part strategy, that we use every season to try and “keep Christmas” just as well as the converted Scrooge did. Even better. And we’ve experienced the results — Christmas for the proactive, creative and diligent Christian adult is far richer than any Christmas a kid can dream up.

            Our formula: 1) Tradition. 2) Discovery. 3) Rediscovery. 4) Work. Let me give you a few examples of each.

            1) Tradition. We like traditions. We like them a lot.  And Christmas time provides plenty for us to revel in. We bought a new Christmas tree a few years ago, one a bit smaller that would give us more room to entertain upstairs. But our old tree still gets set up every year down in our sitting room. It’s a tree we’ve had almost 30 years. Many of the ornaments are that old too. Some even older. We have over 30 nativity scenes around the house that were purchased from all over the world or which were given to us by friends. But the main one (the one under our living room tree) we have had since our first Christmas together 42 years ago. And the nativity scene in the office/reading room takes place in a stable that my Grandma Ellsworth made. It was passed on to my Mom and now to me. Tradition matters. 

            We have a whole lot of other Christmas traditions that we faithfully observe during December and the actual 12 Days of Christmas which start on the 25th. We have several parties along the way but they always include a Christmas tea that Claire hosts for the girls in her family, a Christmas Eve breakfast at a restaurant in Lincoln with all of Claire’s family that’s around, a Christmas Day dinner with otherwise “unattached” friends at our house, and an elaborate Epiphany dinner party also at our house.

            I always do a Christmas-oriented sermon series at church. Plus I try and write something else that is seasonal too — usually a short story or satirical piece. We send Christmas cards to a select list of friends. We decorate cookies and give them away to neighbors. We buy gifts for family members. We read some of the same books, listen to some of the same music (the first played has to be the Carpenters Christmas album), watch the same old movies, and visit many of the same friends who don’t get out much. And, throughout the season, my subconscious mind awakens the rest of me and I end up going out to the living room in the middle of the night, turning on the lights on the tree, and taking some time to pray and think. (Claire has a tradition related to this. But her tradition is keeping her subconscious mind as firmly asleep as the rest of her!)

            And finally, also among our Christmas traditions is joining close friends for certain activities: praying and singing carols outside the abortion mill, meeting for early morning coffee or sometimes lunch, holding our literary club meeting, and getting together to listen to an old recording we have of Dylan Thomas reading his classic, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”

            Now traditions do not necessarily live forever. They have their season and, even when gone, will still provide pleasant memories. But they do end. That’s natural. For instance, we used to have a Christmas shopping restaurant (Fazoli’s) that we would have lunch at during one of the two days we went Christmas shopping together. But we no longer shop like that and so we haven’t been to a Fazoli’s for years. In the same way, we used to mark the first snow of the season by getting down to the Spaghetti Works. And that often worked out to be near Christmastime. But, as the quality of the restaurant slipped, we willingly let that tradition slip away too. One more example. For several years we enjoyed a tradition of putting together Christmas-themed jigsaw puzzles which we would then decoupage and hang up the next season. But one only has so much wall space. So that tradition ended too. But, like I said, these traditions had their day and we cherished them in their season. Now, we look back fondly on the memories they left.  

            2) Discovery. Yes, we like tradition. But we also like the adventure of doing different things and so we come up with some new stuff each Christmas too. And, as you might guess, sometimes those new things end up being traditions in their own right. They move others aside altogether or perhaps just squeeze in somewhere among the rest. This year Claire and I have already had some terrific such discoveries. Among the best have been watching Heidi (the classic Shirley Temple version), reading some new Christmas books (including Sarah Palin’s which is superb), having the Nelsons take us to their Sam’s Club where we all had a delicious Nathan’s hot dog combo for lunch (for just $1.50, can’t beat it) and participating in two delightful Christmas tree lighting ceremonies — one being the first annual lighting at the Andy Williams Moon River Theater in Branson and the other the longstanding ceremony at Boys Town.

            The sermon series I’ve been doing at Faith Bible Church (“Do You Hear What I Hear: The Theology of Christmas Carols”) probably fits in the discovery category because I’ve never taken this approach before.  I’m looking carefully at one carol every week, letting the theological significance of the lyrics really shine through. One of the ways is to show the Scripture’s support (or sometimes, the lack thereof) for selected highlights from the song. We so often take these things for granted and aren’t careful enough to appreciate the really profound heritage we Christian believers possess. And it’s a good lesson too how the creativity of a Christian artist can serve to amplify biblical truth rather than feel like we’ve got to be hip, modern, edgy, new and improved, and all the rest. And I’ve been very pleased at the response from the congregation to the series.

            3) Rediscovery. In this category go the traditions that get tweaked, updated, and sometimes unearthed from the past. I mentioned earlier that sometimes traditions die. But sometimes traditions just leave for a spell but then come round again. And sometimes in that orbit they end up being transformed in some neat way. Let me give you a couple of examples.

            One of our longest standing holiday traditions is to watch the original Miracle on 34th Street on the night of Thanksgiving. We love the film and practically know it by heart. But this year we added a twist. We watched the movie together as always but we had decided beforehand that we would give each other a quiz at the end of the show. So we watched with pen and paper in hand, jotting down trivia questions to ask. And because we declared that the quizzes would be in an “open note” format, we were both taking notes from a defensive position also. We each came up with 15 questions for the other. Some were as easy as “What was the name of the senior care facility where Kris Kringle lived” or “What Christmas present did the prosecuting attorney’s son want?” but some were a lot tougher. “What was Fred Gailey’s apartment number?,”, “What is the first balloon shown in the parade?” and “What were the initials on the trash can at the curb in the scene where Kris Kringle is being hustled off to Belleview?” It was really pretty nifty, a delightful alteration in the tradition. (By the way, we’re doing the same thing with a few other Christmas movies this season. Why don’t you give it a go with your family?)

            Another rediscovery item (besides Claire doing a few different things with the interior decorating scheme) is something new that we’re doing with our old ornaments. A few years ago, Claire purchased at an after-holiday sale a few ornament stands. Two of them (each holding three ornaments) usually go on the mantle over the fireplace. This year we both browsed through the two Christmas trees where Claire had already hung ornaments (a lot of ‘em) and then each of us selected three ornaments to go on one of the stands. Beforehand, however, we sat down with a cup of tea and explained why we made the selections we did. That was fun too plus it forced us to more thoughtfully consider the ornaments and the history they represented of our decades together.  

            And then finally, I suppose I could also put in this rediscovery category the Christmas edition of “When Swing Was King.” And that’s not so much because I have tweaked it a bit (three song changes and quite a few different photos), but more because so many people in the nursing homes and other senior living facilities are seeing it for the first time. And, whether it’s brand new or it’s a carry over from seeing it in past years, the response from the audiences still overwhelms us. “When Swing Was King” is truly an incredible, bountiful, and beautiful blessing to so many people. And maybe none more blessed than Claire and I.

            4) Work. Part of the adult appreciation of Christmas is the understanding that the event’s historic and spiritual significance should inspire one’s regular responsibilities. Indeed, experiencing and proclaiming the “triumph of the skies” isn’t just operable for evenings, weekends and vacation days. Christmas, like Easter, should be a part of us, giving us strength to accomplish our daily tasks and overcoming our daily trials and temptations. He is our Light though we labor in a dark world. “Remember Christ our Savior is born on Christmas Day.” He is our Strong Tower even though we labor under difficult and unjust conditions. “Remember Christ our Savior is born on Christmas Day.” He is our Salvation from not only the penalty of sin but even from its power in our present lives. “Remember Christ our Savior is born on Christmas Day.”

            Our Christmas therefore includes our Vital Signs work too. Some of it we’ve described above but a general list for December’s activities thus far would include the regular blogging (20 posts just this week), “When Swing Was King” (7 just this week), the extensive preparations necessary for our quarterly board meeting, doing an interview, speaking to 3 groups of AWANA kids at Country Bible Church in Blair, answering correspondence, preparing the transfer of material from our existing VSM website to a new one, the prayerful presence at the abortion clinic (and other prayer times), creating some attention-grabbing Christmas cards to send to political representatives, and working out the agenda with a longtime friend and pro-life colleague for a new literature/music project. And all of this activity has been infused with heavy doses of the Christmas spirit. Thank You, Lord.

            So there you go, our premeditated strategy of enjoying and proclaiming Christmas well.  Tradition, discovery, rediscovery, and work. I hope you find something here that you can use in your own Christmas celebrations. Until 2014, have a very merry and spiritually effective Christmas. And thank you so much for your ongoing friendship, your financial support of Vital Signs Ministries, and your every prayer in our behalf.