My Very First Christmas
by Eric Bartczak
I’m one of those people who can say they “grew up in the church”. That’s not to say that I had a uniquely “religious” life or that our family was overly pious. It just meant that as a kid, unless we were deathly ill, we went to church EVERY SUNDAY. As a Missouri Synod Lutheran I had a colorful string of perfect attendance medals for Sunday School that would have made George S. Patton jealous. I did two years of Catechism Class. And I was in every Christmas pageant I can remember from the time I could walk. I was miscast as an angel in a little white smock and halo, later “graduated” to being a shepherd boy, struggled to memorize my lines from Luke, and even sang a duet with my sister one year (which was a musical disaster). Pam and I have been at Central Pres since 1980 or so, and over the years we’ve delighted in watching our own two sons appear as angels and shepherds. Now they have their own kids and we are grandparents. Time flies. I’ve heard the Christmas Story and sung “Silent Night” a million times. It’s safe to say that Christmas isn’t just “very familiar” to me. It’s part of my DNA. And that’s a mixed blessing.
The problem with having a lifetime of Christmases is that after a while they can easily become routine or blur together. The shepherds’ costumes are the same, but the kids’ faces change. After years of use, the glitter-covered “star-on-a-stick” gets too beat-up to use, so someone makes a new one … but the star is still there. Even the plastic baby Jesus gets lost or eventually needs replacing. And the “holiday parties” and over-the-top gift-giving (trust me, no Lexus with a bow in front of our house this year) and over-commercialization of the holiday make it even worse. It all kind of mushes together into some part-sacred, part-secular, memory-packed ritual. It loses its meaning.
But I think there’s an antidote. Former Talking Heads front-man David Byrne hit on it at the end of their wonderful, wacky film “True Stories”:
“See, I like forgetting. When I see a place for the first time…I notice everything; the color of the paper, the sky, the way people walk, doorknobs, every detail. Then, after I’ve been there for a while, I don’t notice them anymore. Only by forgetting can I remember what a place is really like…so maybe for me, forgetting and remembering are the same thing.”
Maybe that’s how it should be with Christmas. Maybe the best way to celebrate Christmas is to erase the past – the good, the bad, the in-between – and experience it like it’s your very first Christmas. Like you’ve never heard the story before. Like it’s ALL new and fresh and full of wonder. “You mean they had to sleep in a BARN with all those smelly animals? Why couldn’t they find someplace nicer to stay? And a real angel took the time to tell the shepherds out in the countryside and they walked all the way into Bethlehem to worship him? And that enormous star? And more people came from even farther away to find the baby?” And the Big One: “And this baby, this little baby in a feeding trough filled with hay was the Son of God?” Yes. He is the Son of God.
So, whoever you are. Whatever you’ve been or are now. Young. Old. Rich. Poor. Happy. Sad. Gay. Straight. Surrounded by family. Alone. New believer. “Lifer”. Non-believer:
Come see the baby! He’s brand new. And he’s here for YOU.