Monday, July 25, 2011

When Christmas Sings

It is obvious that Christmas is much more dramatic for kids than for adults, generally speaking. The reason is also obvious. It is because they feel Christmas more easily. 

And, the reason they can feel Christmas so easily? It is because they are innocent. Their lives are not so "barnacled" with the cynicism that attaches through long years of experience. They have not yet had time to learn the involuntary skills of a pessimistic adulthood. And so Christmas remains a deeply exciting time for them.

When I think of that kind of Christmas, I am transported back to my ninth year. My dad had a gas station that demanded that he be there from sun up to way past sun down - and still it would not pay him even a descent living. I remember that cold winter as though it were yesterday.

Dad was normally happy-go-lucky. He was given to laughter, and fun, and joking around. He was a perfect dad for a nine year old, because, in a heart beat, he could become nine years old again, himself. 

And then, he would play with you and do silly stuff with you as if you were the only person on the planet. And he might even do so in the middle of his business day, if he thought you needed to be squirted with a handy water hose or ride up and down on the car lift (the "grease rack" to some of you old service station guys).

But this bitter winter was different. We still laughed, but not nearly as much. It was truly a hard time, especially for Mom and Dad. Money was so very short. There was a heavy and relentless concern, even about the basics. 

Every week the questions loomed. "Will there be enough to pay the gas bill?" Or, "Do we have enough groceries to put off buying more for a couple of days?" 

I still hurt for them when I think about the emotional load that they carried that winter. And then to turn around and see two bright eyed children expectantly looking forward to Christmas. I know now, that we only unwittingly added to their load.

But in our family, we were always all in it together. Mom and Dad didn't hide the truth from us. They just gently explained the realities of our life, and asked us to be accepting of those realities with them. 

That approach bound us willingly to their struggle and to them. Even at such a young age, my sister (Judy) and I could sense their trouble. And that really came to matter much more than what wasn't going to be under the Christmas tree.

After Dad explained and hugged and promised that things would get better soon, it seems like we all simply settled into going forward. Mom and Dad had their hands full just answering those demanding survival questions.  And, Judy and I just sort of accepted what was. But then something happened...

A few days before Christmas, my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Junior, whom we went to church with, invited us over to their house. The main activity that I remember from that day was Mom and Aunt Ruth laughing and cooking together for Christmas. 

I don't really remember where Dad and Uncle Junior were. But, everything seem to lighten and get better from that day. And on Christmas morning, we got up to a Christmas tree, literally surrounded by presents. I couldn't believe it.

That year, I had my heart set on a Range Rider BB gun. I know, it sounds kinda Hollywood-ish.  But, if I'm lyin,' I'm dyin', it really was my Christmas hope.  

However, I had pretty much abandoned that hope after Dad explained how difficult things were. But, now I thought, "Surely my BB gun is under that tree among all those presents!"

As Dad handed out the presents, excitement was flowing like a river. We were trying on this and showing off that, until all the presents were opened. 

But, as great as everything was, there was no BB gun. I was so taken with everything else, though, it didn't really seem all that important at the time.

My Dad was on one knee beside the Christmas tree just taking in all of the commotion when he turned and looked directly at me. With mock surprise, he said, "Wait a minute. I think there is one more back here." He then reached way around the tree where I couldn't see and pulled out, you guessed it, the best Range Rider BB gun in the whole world - mine.

After the back flips and somersaults (me, not Dad), he called Judy and me in close and gave us one more explanation. Basically, he said, "Kids, all of this is from Aunt Ruth and Uncle Junior. Were it not for them, none of this would be here this morning. We need to thank them later."

After his explanation and the reading of the Christmas story from the Bible, Dad and I spent two hours on a cold, windy safari shooting everything with that BB gun that wouldn't shoot back. Then, we cleaned up and went to my aunt and uncle's house for lunch, and the rest of what I remember to be the best Christmas day of my young life.

In the innocence of my ninth year, Christmas gave me many things. It gave me tears of sadness. It gave me tears of joy. It gave me tears of gratitude. 

It gave me laughter. It gave me love - flowing in both directions. And I experienced it all very deeply as a very wonderful Christmas.

When I think about Christmas now, I know that is the way the season of Christmas is suppose to be. It is supposed to be a time of vivid personal encounter - an encounter with ourselves, an encounter with the people around us, and an encounter with God of Christmas.   And, all of it made vibrant by the renewed innocence that Christ brings to us. 

And isn't that the ultimate gift of Christmas?  It offers the gift of a renewed innocence which brushes away the "barnacles" of life's pessimism, and restores, not only our hope, but our highest ideals.