There is an old Christmas song that begins with these amazing words: "It's the most wonderful time of the year." Truly those words echo within the hearts of many this Christmas Season. This is the season when scenes of "Christmases long ago" come rushing back into our memories. This is my first Christmas without my Mom. The other day I just sat and enjoyed remembering those Christmas scenes when I was a boy. My Mom loved to bake at Christmastime. She made dozens of cookies - more than one variety. She made pounds of candy - her burnt-sugar fudge would literally melt in your mouth. My Dad's job was to crack all the pecans and walnuts Mom would use in her baking and candy-making. He also led the charge in the peanut shelling. I was never very good at cracking a pecan without destroying the nutmeat, but I could shell peanuts. My siblings and I often had a contest to see who could shell the most peanuts.
Christmas morning would find us off to Yulatta at 6:00 a.m. You know, we did not even mind getting up early for that service. The air was crisp, the snow would crunch when you walked on it. There was a quietness and yet brilliance in the Christmas-night sky. With joy we would sing "Joy to the World, the Lord is come" and "O, Come All Ye Faithful." Then, just as the sun was beginning to peak over the horizon, we would hurry home. Breakfast was always served before the presents would arrive. Mom always had a Swedish cinnamon-pecan tea-ring that she served, drizzled with powdered-sugar frosting and decorated with red and green maraschino cherry pieces. A favorite treat were those gigantic Christmas oranges - there would be one beside each place setting. It was a breakfast that I always treasure. Then, after the dishes were done - no, we had no dishwasher to put them into - we all had to pitch in - then we gathered around the tree for the presents. I loved Christmas mornings. And, to be honest, I still miss an early Christmas morning worship service.
As I thought of many Christmas memories, I was reminded of a verse within the Luke Advent story that brought special meaning. Luke writes these words of Mary: "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). We like to imagine what the scene there in Bethlehem that night looked like. To be perfectly honest, we have a lot more questions than answers. Were there animals in that cave? How many shepherds came? Did they bring sheep with them? What kind of a child-birthing experience did Mary have? What was going through Joseph's mind as tried to comfort and encourage Mary as she delivered her first child? But, whatever happened that night, Luke tells us that "Mary treasured all those things and pondered them in her heart." I am confident that every year, around the time of Jesus's birthday, Mary would sit and remember that night. The story of the angelic visitation and of their anthem as shared by the shepherds brought joy. She would remember the kindness of Joseph and the smile that crossed his face as he delivered the Son of God.
Perhaps Mary pondered deeply a truth that still mystifies us today. That little baby she had just delivered and was now nursing at her breast; that little baby who then was quietly laid within a manger-bed and whose soft breaths gave a signal of peace; that little baby was God Himself! She had had the opportunity to ponder that mystery for the preceding nine-months. Yet, even as she saw the fruit of that amazing pregnancy lying there before her, there was still a mystery that surrounded it.
Friends, have you taken time this Christmas Season to have your mind stirred with the memories of Christmases in the past? But, more importantly, have you taken the time to just ponder the mystery of the Incarnation? I am drawn to those mystifying words from the Apostle John: "But the Word (and John has identified Who that Word is with his opening statement - "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God") became flesh and lived among us" (John 1:14). The Creator of the universe became part of His creation. The powerful El Shaddai became a helpless little baby. The One who rained down fire from heaven at a prophet's command, now cries out to His mother for life-sustaining nourishment. The One who called Himself the "Great I AM" now has a body with a beginning and an ending.
Friends, that is the mystery of the Incarnation. That child whose birthday we celebrate on Monday, is the Son of God. And there was only one purpose for His coming - to provide the way of salvation for sinful men and women, young men and young women, and boys and girls. I trust you have received that amazing gift that Jesus came to give.
This will be the final blog for 2017. Taking some time next week to spend with our family. So, I want to wish you and your families a very Joyous and Merry Christmas and a Blessed start to the New Year.