For reasons very different and mostly not comparable, I love both the Christmases we will celebrate on December 25. I love better Christmas and I love lesser Christmas.
Yes, the Christmas that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ is the better Christmas, and it always will be. I love the story. I love a crèche with shepherds gathered around the manger and the mother and child, Joseph looking on from behind. My life has been forever changed by the reality that “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Wesley’s “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” may still be my favorite song of this first and best Christmas, and this is the best of the verses:
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
But I also like Christina Rossetti’s hauntingly beautiful “In the Bleak Midwinter”:
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
I love the Christmas that celebrates the Messiah’s birth.
But I love the lesser Christmas, too. I love the Christmas of trees and lights and ornaments. I love the Christmas of stockings and sleigh bells. I love presents and ribbons and a child’s shout of delight when that present is opened.
It’s not all that hard to keep the better and the lesser Christmases separate, and except for a little overlap, it is best to keep them separate. There are far fewer skirmishes in the Christmas wars when you do. No need to theologize candy canes or to make maudlin sentiment the “real” meaning of Christmas.
I am looking forward to a merry lesser Christmas this year. Becky and I will see all our children and grandchildren in two shifts – the Massachusetts and Memphis branches here in Langhorne as we celebrate both better and lesser Christmases, and then a trip to Michigan for a few of the Twelve Days of (mostly lesser) Christmas.
I think my anticipation of the lesser Christmas took a quantum leap when UPS delivered the Legos. Please don’t tell him, but we’re giving Caleb, our five-year old grandson, a big tub of “classic” Legos. No rocket ship parts or little scuba tanks and flippers, just bricks and wheels to build houses and trucks (and pirate ships). I plan on spending as much of Christmas Day as possible on the floor with Caleb going wherever his imagination wants to take our Lego creations.
Of course, Becky and I will read books to Caleb and two-year old Esther (she is going to love those design blocks). Six-month old Gideon is not quite ready for literary breaks or imaginary play. Becky is the world’s best gift-giver and, it’s going to be a wonderful time with Caleb, Esther, and Gideon; Christopher and Katie, Uncle Jonathan and Auntie Alanna.
I think it was when UPS delivered the Legos that I began to get really excited.
We’re hoping that the warm beginning to winter will last through our long drive to Michigan and back. Lena is nearly four with an imagination that matches or maybe exceeds her older cousin’s. Becky has found some toys and has made some dress-ups that will only make for lots more time on their living room floor. One-year old Ada will be busy putting her new baby doll to bed and chattering away with words even her mom and dad don’t quite understand. Ryan and Katharine are working hard to make their lesser Christmas simple and calm. We love it.
I have great expectations for our celebration of the lesser Christmas. I don’t think I will be disappointed.
The celebration of the lesser Christmas is open to all comers and there is no particular reason to keep the Christ in this lesser Christmas, though I suspect that those who allow a little overlap between the better and the lesser Christmas enjoy the lesser a bit better than those who don’t. The better Christmas helps keep the lesser Christmas bounded by simplicity and love.
I think it was when UPS delivered the Legos that I began to get really excited about lesser Christmas coming soon.
On Christmas eve we will join our voices with Christians around the world – in Brazil and Burundi, in Syrian refugee camps and ancient cathedrals, singing with great anticipation of the coming of the one by whose saving love and sustaining Spirit we are able to sing “no more let sin and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground.”
The angel message of good news of a great joy is still and always will be the best message ever. It is what we celebrate at better Christmas.
But without apologies, I can hardly wait until the Legos and the dress ups, the dolls and the books are unwrapped.
See you Sunday