This Christmas essay originally appeared in the December 18/25, 2011, issue of Christian Standard.
By John Caldwell
I love Christmas! It is without a doubt my favorite season of the year. I like almost everything about it, both secular and spiritual. I enjoy the music, the lights, the decorations, the parties, and the programs. I enjoy the hustle and the bustle, the giving and receiving of gifts. But most of all, I enjoy the Christmas story itself—the fact that God became flesh and dwelt among us; that Jesus is indeed the reason for the season.
In our 46 years of marriage, Jan and I have developed many Christmas traditions. As our children, Shan and Jennifer, came along, we made refinements and additions to those traditions. But one that has remained essentially unchanged is the recitation of the Christmas story.
I was fortunate to have been born into a Christian family and to have had a mother who believed in the importance of Scripture memorization. One of the passages she taught me to quote even before I could read was Luke 2:1-22. Jan, too, learned that passage by memory while growing up. Thus, part of our Christmas morning celebration has been either the reading or recitation of that wonderful text.
First as a couple and later as a family of four, we would take turns reading or reciting the Christmas story. Usually with a cup of cranberry tea in hand (another Christmas tradition), we would sit down together and reflect on those wonderful words that begin, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. . . .” We would do so before the first Christmas stocking or gift was even touched.
When we moved to Indianapolis, we were thrilled to learn that the local newspaper prominently displayed the King James Version of Luke 2 on its front page on Christmas morning. In appreciation for that fact, we would take turns reading directly from the paper. By the way, I’m sorry to report that after our locally owned newspaper was purchased by America’s largest newspaper conglomerate, the story of Jesus’ birth was moved off the front page. But at least it’s still in there, and we still use it for our reading each year. At least we did until last year.
Last year the tradition was changed slightly in a way that could only be considered an improvement. Our grandsons, Jack and Will, then 9 and 7, volunteered (with a little parental urging) to quote the entire passage. Thus a wonderful tradition continued and continues from generation to generation to generation.
Our reading or recitation of this passage isn’t just to put a little religious veneer on what for many has become a very secularized holiday. No, we realize that without the truths revealed in Luke’s record we would all be lost in our sin, without meaning in this life, and without hope for life beyond the grave. That’s why every time we watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, another of our seasonal traditions, we thrill to Linus’s recitation:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel of the Lord said unto them, Fear not: for, behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown!
Here’s another verse my mother taught me to memorize when I was only a small child: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Now that’s good news and the true meaning of Christmas.
So Merry Christmas, everyone!
*All Scripture verses are from the King James Version.
John Caldwell is the retired pastor of Kingsway Christian Church, Avon, Indiana.