By Kathie Hempel ––
I remember Christmas’ Eves long ago when my sons were very young. Not always fondly.
As a single Mom, with no close family of my own, it was a struggle that I always felt I lost. I wanted to be able to see the boys faces on Christmas morning. I had worked hard to be able to afford at least one thing they really wanted Santa to bring. It just wasn’t enough.
I would imagine that moment they opened the presents and saw they had gotten exactly what they wanted from the Sears Toy Catalog…but then what? What would we do with the other 15 ½ hours of the day?
Sure, I could cook a nice dinner. The four of us could sit around the kitchen table, however, I could not imagine it would feel like Christmas.
Then I would think of their Dad’s family. All the aunts and uncles and cousins, grandma and grandpa, the noise of everyone talking and singing carols and comparing gifts. I could not compete with that. And so, each year regardless of shared custody and the swapping of turns with the children during the holiday, I would pack up their little overnight bags and send them off with their presents for others and wish them the merriest of Christmas’.
Many times, I would collapse against the door after it closed behind them and sob. All I wanted to do was to crawl into bed and sleep until it was over. Just waiting for it to end. Was that all that Christmas had come to mean to me? How I wished for something different!
Today, I look back on those days quite differently. I hope my boys remember Christmas as a happy time. I believe they can, based on all the wonderful stories and laughter that came home from those Christmas’ that were spent with Dad and his family. And I smile, knowing I did the best thing I could for them at the time.
When Christmas doesn’t seem as merry as the televisions commercials tell us it should be, perhaps it is time to look back on that first Christmas Eve. There were no sparkling trees or brightly covered gifts. Just a young man and woman, looking down at a baby they had not conceived together and yet would raise as their own. They were shunned by many they knew and amazed by the remarkable happenings that followed a message from an angel. And now here he was.
He looks so…human. They wonder how exactly does one raise the human son of a Divine God. Shepherds and wise men, angels on high, murder in a King’s heart. There must have been times this very human couple wished for something different.
Yet, based on the hope of the prophets and the voice of the angel, they moved forward. It had to be backbone, not wishbone, that would allow them to complete the extraordinary mission ahead.
Luke 2:19 says: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Is it possible that the secret to our survival of the most difficult times of our lives is contained in this one short verse?
Here is a mother, who counted hope as treasure. How often did she think of all the events that led to that moment? How often did she have to remember, in wonder, the promises of the angel?
Her son was not always easy to understand. He disappeared while they were traveling, it took them three days to find the boy and when they did, he was not exactly apologetic. “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them,’ according to Luke 2: 41-52 and again “… his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”
During a wedding she asks for a favor and Jesus at first seems hesitant, she goes to visit him surrounded by crowds of strangers and He asks “who is my mother?” I would not be pleased!
Mary’s toughest time of all comes at the foot of a cross, with mockers tossing lots for her son’s clothes, watching soldiers stab him and offering him vinegar when he desperately needs water. He tells a friend to watch over her and then says, “it is finished.”
Finished? How could that be? An angel said he was going to save the world! That he was a King! She had gone through so much!
These were not, I am quite sure the dreams she had for her babe in the manger. And yet when the day of Pentecost arrives, we find Mary praying with the disciples. Her dreams did not materialize as she had wished, however, her hope obviously persevered.
Hope is what was given that first Christmas. Hope is what sustains us in the tough times, during the longest of long and lonely nights. In hope we remember that the times when the end seems nearest, there is yet the promise of new beginnings.
When the night seems too long, we need to treasure this hope in our hearts and think on these things.
Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NIV)
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.