A couple of years ago, some friends gave us a beautiful snow globe for Christmas. It’s mostly silver and white with some gold trim on the manger scene in the globe. It’s a simple scene of Mary and Joseph either side of the baby Jesus, wrapped in a cloth in a manger. There’s a couple of curious sheep and three silver palm trees behind them. It’s that “special moment” in time, perhaps what the shepherds saw, or the stable animals. My description doesn’t do it justice, of course. It’s beautiful and elegant and all contained within its protective glass shell.
Just the way we like our Christmases.
But that’s just the “Christmas” we make. The one we prepare and package, order and organize to conveniently – or not so conveniently – fit into our holiday schedule. It’s a special moment in time, sure, and it can make many memories, but when we put away the snow globes, the trees and the three cupboards worth of decorations – or is that just at our house? – we’re putting that Christmas away, too.
Christmas, real Christmas, is bigger than that.
Argue about the origins of Christmas traditions all you like, the accuracy of the story and how we tell it, the arbitrary date, the pagan customs, the commercialism of today’s festivities, but Christmas is bigger than all that, too.
Christmas, for me, is part of a bigger story, a story of life since the beginning, a life we’re living now and a life ahead. It’s about how our relationship with God, and each other, was and is, and how it can be changed for the better by love.
For as much as we mark yearly commemorations of the birth and death and resurrection of Jesus, and we mark certain days as moments in the story of his life, they’re all surely less important than the life itself. Struggling as we were, since the beginning, in our relationship with God and each other, it was that life, that daily living of love, compassion and grace, that became our example for living. In living, Jesus showed us how we can make life better.
And how we’ve struggled with that since. And often failed. But perhaps that might partly be because we mark these “moments in time” and celebrate them without truly realizing that they are “moments for time.” The love that came down at Christmas, to paraphrase Christina Rosetti’s poem, didn’t stay in the stable. That love lives, and we can give it life each day, as it gives us life, every day.
One of my Christmas traditions is to watch the 1951 classic film of A Christmas Carol. In it, there’s a wonderful moment when Scrooge first meets the Ghost of Christmas Present. The Ghost, a grand, jovial sort, tells him this: “Mortal! We Spirits of Christmas do not live only one day of our year. We live the whole three-hundred and sixty-five. So is it true of the Child born in Bethlehem. He does not live in men’s hearts one day of the year, but in all days of the year.”
The Christmas story is big. It’s life, every day.