Dear Eleanor and Wesley,
I have an observation. Lists are incredibly easy to ignore. The oldest one I can think of was universally discarded before the stone tablets even made it down the mountain. This is confirmed by the fact that every list I’ve ever read on the internet I have immediately forgotten. A list about anything important, like why Christmas matters, would not make a lick of sense. And that is exactly why we need something like Christmas, and we’ll make a big old deal out of it in this family as long as we can manage.
This Christmas I started to notice how many stories we tell when the family comes together. Your uncles and I stretched fish stories of our minor athletic triumphs with Papa. Grandpa, Grandma, and Aunt Linda talked about the ebb and flow of our hearts aspirations as we poured ourselves into Christmas pageant performances year after year. Your 99 year old great Grandmother wrote a memoir of her life that was immediately deemed inappropriate for general audiences on Christmas day (She ruined Santa’s cover-up on page 1). Somewhere in all of this mundane chit chat, thread by thread, a tapestry is woven of who this family is and where you come from. At this point, I can only begin to imagine the amazing places you will go. But I know at some point everyone has to reckon with where they have come from. Christmas is a time engineered for doing just that. With a little curiosity, you might be surprised what you find out.
“Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you.” – Samwise Gamgee, The Lord of the Rings
Samwise was onto something here. Great stories are what stay with us. Everyone lives their life in some kind of story. Some people play their own hero. Some people play their own villain. Many work out the drama of their day to day like a soap opera tossed in a work/relationship/family blender. However, we have done things a bit differently. Our story is much bigger than any one of us. Christmas is a time built to remember the first moment that marked the end of the passing darkness. The moment a Jewish baby was born in a backwoods town, put into a feeding trough, and subsequently changed the world. Telling the story, year after year, aggressively reorients our view of ourselves as players in the middle of an unfolding ending that will prove to be Good and Right beyond anything we could imagine.
Now I’m going to be honest with you. Most find much of this to be quite far-fetched. It is a lot more appetizing to look towards the immediate future than consider a family past. Even fewer will understand faith in a big story like ours as more than a willfully blind madness. In fact, many of the people that claim to believe it find the implications more convenient to ignore during every other season. There is the secret to collapsing Christmas. You can’t spend 11 months a year living in one story and expect to find real joy in the celebration of another. The mismatch will be mind-boggling and produce the kind of cynic who can’t stop seeing how fake it all is. On the other hand, if you live the same story, relentlessly centering on what is important no matter what the season, Christmas as a celebration will matter like you wouldn’t believe. How is that possible? Here’s a simple idea: each morning honestly ask yourself two questions: Who am I? Today, what will I do about it?