My mother’s smile. I vividly remember 40 years ago, sitting at a dining room table with my mother and brother, after a huge turkey dinner and opening presents on Christmas Eve. I remember playing Monopoly at the same table on which my little girls ate Christmas dinner twenty years later, in Nanci’s and my home (after my mom died). Though I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, I had the privilege of leading my mom to Christ after I came to the Lord in high school. Yet as I look back, my mother’s smile and decorations and gift-giving and meal-preparation were the heart and soul of Christmas in our home. I cannot think of Christmas without thinking of my mother’s smile—and I can’t wait to see that smile again.
As a child, it was the first waking realization that it was Christmas, which was the best day of the year, even in our nonchristian family. My first move was to jump up and look out my bedroom window to see if it had snowed last night. Usually not, but several memorable times it did. After the snow-check, my brother Lance and I would run to our stockings hung by mom in the living room. I would open the contents slowly, including the ever-present Whitman’s Samplers, stretching it out, not wanting it to end.
We got the big presents on Christmas eve, but there was a special joy in the little treasures wrapped up in the stockings. I didn’t understand then that these little gifts represented the greatest gift ever given—God’s Son. Now, as an adult, a father and a grandfather, I feel those same childlike feelings, a warmth and anticipation. But what I feel now on Christmas that I didn’t many years ago is anticipation for a New Earth, without sin and curse and suffering—a redeemed earth where I will live and work and play and worship and serve with Christian family and friends, and countless new friends besides.
I feel a spirit of adventure not just for the passing joys of Christmas, but for an eternal Christmas, a great story where—as C. S. Lewis put it at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia—every chapter will be better than the one before.
When I was a kid I liked “Silent Night,” even though I didn’t understand the meaning. Now my favorite is “Joy to the World,” because as my wife pointed out to me years ago, it’s the Christmas song that looks forward to Christ’s return and the New Earth. “He rules the world with truth and grace.” That’s what my heart longs for. “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.” Christ’s redemptive work will restore the earth to what God originally intended. Everything touched by the curse will be renewed and transformed into something great. “Joy to the World”—by the power of the risen Christ, the old world will be transformed into the new!
The radical change was when I, as a high-schooler, came to Christ. Suddenly I understood Christmas. In the years since then I’ve come to understand the grace of Jesus more each year. When our daughters were little I saw a joy and delight in their eyes that was like what I had in my heart as a child, but it was much better, because they knew the Christ of Christmas. Today they and their husbands walk with Jesus and this year their children will be experiencing their first post-natal Christmas. They’ll begin some of their own traditions, and perhaps carry on some of ours. Christmas is about giving—and in the giving we gain so much, for we draw near to Christ, the ultimate giver. As Jesus said, it really “is more blessed to give than to receive.”
That people would understand that Jesus is the person they were made by and made for. That they would understand that He loved them enough to go to the cross for them and pay the price for their sins so that they could live forever with Him on the New Earth, the eternal Heaven.
There’s a true story of a Christ-loving man who lay dying. His son asked, “Dad, how do you feel?”
His father replied: “Son, I feel like a little boy on Christmas Eve.”
Christmas is coming. We live our lives between the first Christmas and the second. We look back to that first Christmas and the life of Jesus on the earth for some 33 years—but we look forward to the Christmas in which the resurrected Christ will return and we, his resurrected people, will live with him forever on the New Earth. And right when we think “It doesn’t get any better than this”....it will!