It occurred to me a few days ago that I had yet to post the traditional Christmas piece this year. I don't have any particular reason why that shouldn't be done this year, except that in many ways this... well, it's not the usual Christmas for me.
It was two years ago, three days after Christmas, that my mother passed away. But it's only been in the past few weeks that I've let that sink in, found myself able to let go of lingering matters that were there. I got through Christmas last year because of some things that aren't there this year. Absent those, this is at last the holiday season that I'm letting myself be confronted with that loss (and a number of others).
I'm not going to avoid them. It's time to let them confront me and for me to come out the better for it. That's happening already.
A few weeks ago I had myself voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I had to do it because my life had become completely unmanageable. It was severe depression, to a far worse degree than I've ever endured. It was also because the medication I've been on to treat the bipolar needed some drastic adjustment. I spent a week there, spending most of my time studying my Bible. And prayer, lots of prayer.
I had to do it because the depression was taking a toll on my personal life, my work, everything. Had I not done that, well... I don't like to contemplate what might have happened. But I did address it and I don't think there's any weakness or shame in admitting it. And I came out of it much stronger than I had been before. God brought me through it. He really did. I can't claim any part of that victory for myself. I could write a book about the things I went through in the hospital, especially at night. God brought me through each night, just as He brought me through this night. Just as He is still bringing me through it. I won't dare boast of any of that for my own.
Long story short: I'm not having any Christmas presents this year. I'm too much thankful for the things God has given me already than to want anything that I don't have. It took me a long time to really find the contentment that comes with His grace and to relent unto His will, His timing.
Maybe that'll make what come next on this post have more meaning than ever.
It was my best friend Chad who asked this morning if I was doing the traditional Christmas post on this blog. After some thought about it, I'm going through with it. Hard to believe I wrote this fifteen years ago this month, in the last issue before the holiday break.
So here it is, again, one of my favorite pieces from the old college days and something of a tradition on The Knight Shift...
Originally published in The Pendulum, Elon University, 12/03/1998
Celebrating the Christmas season means celebrating the memories
of the best memories that we take through life are about the times we
cherish the most. And sometimes, it doesn’t take much to bring back the
Last Friday as I was driving around Greensboro, the all-time coolest Christmas song ever came over the speakers.
knows what this genius recording artist’s name is? Does it really
matter? Whoever he is, he’ll forever be remembered as giving us the
immortal sound of “Dogs Singing Jingle Bells”:
Arf arf arf,
Arf arf arf,
Arf Arf Whoof Whoof Whuf…
Ahh... you know how it goes.
there’s the ever-beuh-beuh-beauh-beautiful rendition of Porky Pig
singing “Blue Christmas” and the Chipmunks and of course “Weird Al”
Yankovic’s “Christmas at Ground Zero,” but hearing those dogs singing
“Jingle Bells...” ahhhhh.
It brought me back to the very first
time I heard that: on the radio coming back from school just before
Christmas in 1982. I was in third grade at the time. And it brought
back memories of the Christmas we had.
It was cold and very
cloudy. I remember that because Santa had brought me a telescope and I
didn’t get to use it that night. Which wasn’t too big a worry, ‘cause
me and my sister had our brand-new Atari 2600 to play with!
Christmas memory: To this day, I’ll never forgive Anita for the
pounding she gave me in “Combat.” I don’t care how fancy Sega or the
Playstation get... they’ll never touch the 4-bit pleasures of the Atari!
There have been many a Christmas since then, and I remember each one well, for all the little things they had with them.
never forget Mom and Dad taking me and my sister to see Santa Claus at
the mall in ‘84. That morning Dad asked if I’d come with him to cut
firewood, so we rode the tractor into the woods. There had been snow
earlier in the week, which lay around us in the crisp, cold morning.
also brought his 30-30 rifle, why I still don’t know. After we had the
wood loaded, Dad asked if I wanted to try shootin’ the gun.
I was, a ten-year old kid, holding what looked like an anti-aircraft
cannon in my tiny hands. Well, I aimed at this tree like Dad told me
to, and pulled the trigger.
To this day I cannot describe the
colors that flashed before my eyes, or the sound in my ears. When my
existence finally returned, I was flat on my back in the snow, and blood
was gushing from between my eyes where the scope had hit my nose from
That night Santa saw the bandages and said “Ho ho hoooo, and what happened to you, little fellow?”
“I got shot, Santa,” was the only thing I knew to say.
Hey, was I gonna lie to the Big Man? Uh-uh, no way was I gonna lose all that loot!
following year’s Christmas I remember for many things, but especially
feeding the young calves on our farm. It would be the last year our
family would be running a dairy farm, and I had started helping with
some of the work around the barn.
Dad set up a Christmas tree in the milking room, with wrapped-up boxes beneath it.
hung from the front doors of the barn. And there was something about
the feel of the place there, that has always held a special place in my
heart, as if we knew that there would not be another Christmas like this
I wish there had been another Christmas on the farm,
because there’s something I wish I could have seen. And as silly as
some people might find this, I really believe that it happens.
see, if you go out at midnight on Christmas Eve, you will see all the
animals in the farmyard, and in the fields, and in the forests, and
wherever else they may be, stop where they are.
And then they kneel.
They kneel in remembrance for another night, long ago. It was Christmas, but how many people could know it then?
remarkable, to be sure: Caesar had decreed a census through the land,
and each man went with his family to his town.
One man in
particular took his wife, a young woman quick with child. But there was
no room for them at the inn. So that night, in a dirty and filthy
stable and surrounded by animals, a child was born.
it’s easy for us to forget. At this time of the year, we are too
overwhelmed by the consumption and the material and the glitter and all
the customs that come with Christmas.
And it’s too easy for us to forget that Christmas is, before everything else, a birthday.
But the animals, who watched over Him as He lay as a newborn babe, two millenia ago... the animals have not forgotten.
so they kneel every Christmas and give glory to the newborn king, and
in awe that God would send His Son to live among us in the greatest act
And to teach us many things, but especially to “love one another”. And to bridge the gap between man and God.
birth of Jesus Christ: the greatest Christmas present there will ever
be. His birth, which would give mankind the greatest present it could
ever ask for.
Who in the world on that night could know the price that this present would someday have?
and Earth sang praises to His glory on that night. The animals have
always remembered that night. And Heaven and Earth still praise and
sing unto Him.
And if you only take a little time out from how
busy things become at this part of the year, you can hear the singing,
too. And it is a great temptation to join in that chorus.
And perhaps in hearing, we will not forget the real meaning of Christmas, either.
Christmas Eve night I plan to be outside, with the same telescope that I
got for Christmas all those years ago, and trying to envision a bright
star over Bethlehem. Around midnight, I’m going to take a walk over to
my aunt’s farm.
Merry Christmas. Peace on Earth, and goodwill toward men.
Dedicated to the memory of W.C. “Mutt” Burton, for whom Christmas was always “In My Bones.”
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