Your Most Memorable Christmas
My Most Memorable Christmas
I remember as a child shaking the Christmas gifts under the tree trying to imagine what might be inside. And now, as a father and more recently a grandfather, I enjoy watching the children take their turns guessing what is in the packages and then unwrapping their gifts with abandon.
Of course, not everyone shares such happy memories. Sometimes at a Christmas party, I’ll ask others to share their most memorable Christmas, whether happy or sad. I’ve heard delightful stories of unexpected reunions, idyllic settings, and generous gifts. I’ve also heard stories of deep hurt, poverty, family breakups, and even death. That word Christmas just doesn’t evoke the same memories for everyone.
I’d like to share what I think might be my most memorable Christmas. Back in 1970, my wife and I joined a tour group to visit the Luther sites of the Reformation in East Germany. In those days, that part of the country was firmly in the grip of communism; dogs sniffed our luggage and tour guides dutifully gave glowing reports of life under the Soviet Union. But even so, in the cities we visited, such as Wittenberg and Eisleben, we met people who celebrated Christmas and let us know that the truths of the Reformation had not been snuffed out.
For example, when we arrived at our hotel in Wittenberg, a sparsely-decorated tree was in the lobby. I asked an employee what she knew about Jesus, and she said, “Christus ist in mine hertz” (“Christ is in my heart”). That was my first clue that communism could not stamp out Christianity; the flame could be smothered but not extinguished. Hints of Christmas were everywhere, in the stores, in restaurants, and along the dimly-lit streets. Although there was not much to buy and the people had even less money to buy it with, we felt a oneness with those who remembered our Savior’s birth.
When we arrived in Erfurt, where Luther spent his days in a monastery, we were introduced to a Lutheran pastor who not only showed us the premises but pointedly assured us that he preached the Gospel and was not ashamed to follow in Luther’s heroic footsteps. Christmas was celebrated here, too.
For New Years we attended a service at the great St. Thomas church in Leibzig, where Bach is buried and where he was minister of music. The message that evening was on the topic of time: for God there is no time as we know it, because He is beyond time and thus we can confidently trust Him for He alone knows the future. Thus, there is hope in the midst of repression, poverty, and unanswered questions.
And that, come to think of it, is the essence of Christmas: the God who is beyond time became one with us so that we might be reconciled to Him and trust Him not just with our future on earth but with eternity that is yet to come.
No matter the country and the conditions, God has His people everywhere, rejoicing that Jesus has come to give us hope in the midst of misery, and confidence in an uncertain future. Despite geographical and cultural differences, Christmas is a shaft of light in a dark and sinful world. What is your most memorable Christmas?
Should We Celebrate Christmas At All?
We’ve all run into the question: should Christians celebrate Christmas, now that it’s been overtaken by so many secular overtones and traditions? Pastor Lutzer shares his thoughts with us.
Q: Europe, like America, celebrates Christmas, but do they believe in it?
A: That is a good question. Christmas is loved in Europe for much the same reason it is loved in America: it is a time of commercialism, a time for family and revelry. Unfortunately, it is reduced to parties and self-indulgence. It is definitely not a time to worship the King born in Bethlehem.
I am reminded of a christening that took place in England. When the ceremony began, the honored baby was nowhere to be seen. He was found smothered under the coats the guests had laid on the bed. Just so, whether in Europe or America, Jesus—the real Jesus—cannot be found in public celebrations! Just witness our own controversies regarding the presence of a crèche in a town square!
Q: That said, should we as Christians even participate in our Christmas customs and traditions?
A: Almost every year I receive letters and booklets saying that we should not celebrate Christmas because it is rooted in paganism and has become too identified with the spirit and commercialism of the world. And, why should we be sharing gifts among ourselves? Aren’t we like the heathen who chop down trees and celebrate? And besides, we don’t even know the time of year Jesus was born!
I have no doubt that Jesus is often secondary even in the celebrations of Christian families. I’m reminded of a little boy who prayed, “Forgive us our Christmases, even as we forgive those who Christmas against us!” However, I think that Christmas is recoverable.
For one thing, Christmas should be a time for corporate worship. Personally, the singing of Christmas carols enables me to appreciate Jesus more fully. Second, we need to promise ourselves that we will sacrifice for others at Christmas—purchasing gifts for needy families, including the lonely in our family celebrations, etc. Third, we must include Jesus in all we do. In our family, no gifts are opened until we have read the Christmas story and prayed in gratitude to God. Fourth, we should try to not be extravagant in our gifts but choose those things that are necessary and helpful. Finally, Christmas is our best opportunity to witness to the world. People are more open to the Christmas story during this joyous season.
Q: Your article speaks about your experience in Luther’s country. Is he not credited with several Christmas songs and traditions?
A: Let me clarify. Luther is not the author of “Away in a Manger” as commonly believed. This carol was put in a Luther book of children’s songs, and so it has incorrectly been attributed to him.
But Luther, to my knowledge, is the first person to bring a tree into the house and transform pagan practice by putting candles on the branches to signify that Christ brought light into the world. Luther made much of Christmas and all of the Christian festivals, believing that they were opportune times for teaching and celebration.
Q: How will you celebrate Christmas this year?
A: God willing, we will celebrate it with our three daughters, their husbands, and our six grandchildren. We don’t take this for granted because our son-in-law Ben, our “soldier son,” was in Afghanistan last year, so he was absent for our celebrations. Previously he was in Iraq. I might add that we are grateful that he is now out of the military.
I pray that we will use Christmas to bless the hearts of others and renew our own worship of Christ. In the past we’ve had an open house in our condo to invite neighbors and friends for a fun evening with the Gospel being shared.