Dylan Thomas begins his recollection of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” with these words:
“One Christmas was much like the other in those years around the sea-town corner now, out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
Christmas, more than any other time of the year, evokes our memories of childhood – memories often exaggerated and sentimentalized, but always cherished. The songs of Christmas, the family customs of Christmas are, for those of us who are now grown up, a reminder of a wonder-world of long ago, a world full of bright surprises, a world in which we could really believe the angels message – good tidings of great joy to all people, peace on earth, good will to men.
Such recollections of happiness from days gone by are a continuing source of joy and gratitude for us; but because we know many such experiences of yesterday can never be recaptured in the present, these memories can also be painful and sad.
For most of us Christmas is a highly emotional time, a holiday when we look back to the homes where we were reared, a time of strong family feelings. In a way, we are always searching for that lost world of childhood and innocence, even though we know that the search is futile. We are wanderers in search of a world which perhaps never was, and which certainly can never be again. Christmas, more than any other time of the year, brings out our wanderlust, our longing for a lost childhood and for the clear, pure taste of joy.
It is partly this search for the past that brings people to church in such large members at Christmas time. The regulars and the irregulars, the believers and the skeptics, the saints and the sinners, all gather to listen again to the Christmas story – the story of the shepherds and the angels, recounted in words and celebrated in song.
The importance of the Incarnation for us is not as a fact of the past but as a fact of the present and of the future. God’s love was manifest in sending his Son into the world not only because he cared about Jews and Gentiles of long ago. His love is for all humankind, rich and poor, black and white, good and bad – for all people living in every age until the end of history. Christmas is a time to mark this fact and in worship to allow Christ to enter fully into our lives – healing, saving, empowering, enabling us to give and to live for others, even as he has lived and died for us.
Christmas need not mean looking backward nostalgically or shutting our eyes to the hard facts of life. For the fact of Christmas is that God chose to make his habitation in our world, as it is, not as it might have been. He will be present with us as we gather in our churches to celebrate his Nativity, bringing with us our joys and our sorrows, our strengths and our weaknesses, making our fumbling and reluctant offering of ourselves, our souls and bodies that we may serve Him in the world.