Christmas Holidays are hard. There I said it.
It’s like being a person who doesn’t like pumpkin spice in the fall. It’s just awkward,
Let me clarify that a bit. Christmas when I was a kid was a lot of fun. I remember the pre-Christmas celebrations we used to have with another Dutch family in our community. It was on St. Nicholas day or around it. There was always lots of Dutch foods like Tai Tai, Peppernuts, Stroopwaffles and more. We would get a family gift and it was memorable and enjoyable. You would have to watch the TV guide carefully because your favourite Christmas special would probably only come on once and you didn’t want to miss it. No Christmas was complete with out the Grinch Who Stole Christmas and the Charlie Brown Christmas. Our town’s Santa Claus parade was on a Saturday and many years I got to ride our churches float, I usually got to be a shepherd, wearing a bathrobe and a fake beard carrying a hockey stick with a piece of cardboard taped on the end to make it look like a crook. We would always go to a Christmas Eve Service. Christmas Day was gifts in the morning. Turkey dinner at lunch. Tobogganing with friends in the afternoon. One of us would have a new sled or crazy carpet. The Christmas holidays seemed to last forever. It really was the most wonderful time of the year.
Then I grew up and became a Pastor…and sometimes Christmas as a Pastor is challenging and hard. I still love Christmas Eve Candlelight service, for me there is nothing more special than singing Silent Night by candlelight. But every year you have to take the Christmas story from a new angle to help others experience fully the joy of Christmas. That is a good thing. But it can also be emotionally, spiritually and physically draining.
But this year is even harder still. I wish it wasn’t. Some days I want to wake up and realize that it has all been just a bad dream. But instead I realize that our new reality continues.
I received my first Christmas card the other day. It was sent to John, Jenn, Brittany, Dylan, Jordan and Rachel. I looked at it and one thing stood out to me: the lack of Stephen’s name. It’s not a bad thing, the card was appreciated, very appreciated. It’s the new reality that I’m having a hard time with. My son is not coming home for Christmas. Stephen loved Christmas. He loved gifts. He loved to give. He was always appreciative of the things he received. He loved setting up his first tree in his apartment. He particularly loved the family gatherings. Even when no one else could come because of work schedules, Stephen was always faithful. He loved the Church Christmas Dinner and singing the 12 Days of Christmas around the table. Last year I told him I wasn’t going to do that song he said you have to, “It’s a Christmas tradition of Callander Bay Church.” He loved the Christmas Eve service, it was one of his favourites. He used to love being one of the candle lighters.
I have found my motivation lacking as I have approached this Christmas. My temptation is to say it’s just too hard because there is so much pain in the preparation. But there is another thought that permeates my mind. This is what Stephen loved. These were the things that he found meaning and purpose in. They were the highlight of his year. He would be so disappointed if they didn’t happen. So, I plan through the pain and in doing so I find new meaning. It is my Christmas gift to him.
The first Christmas must have been painful for God. The Heavenly Father sent His son to a world that was lost in sin. He gave Him to world that would not appreciate His precious gift. God knew that the painful path His son would have to take and that it would eventually lead Him to the cross. One of the most brutal and inhumane way to die. Yet God planned through the pain. It was the ultimate Christmas gift to us. As the apostle Paul describe it, “the indescribable gift” – the salvation of our souls.
I love Christmas music. Music for me has always been the voice of my soul. It moves me like almost nothing else. It’s funny how a song that I have always loved, has found new meaning for me. A couple years ago I discovered the Canadian Tenors version of a Sarah McLachlan song called Wintersong. The Tenors sing the song with her. I still remember the first time I heard that version. The mix of emotion, harmony and melancholy took my breath away. I had chills down my spine and a tear in my eye. Since then it is always a part of my holiday playlist. So, when the season began, I pulled it out once again. I never expected the overwhelming flood of emotions I would feel sweep over me as I interpreted the song in light of my new circumstances. I have the lyrics below, I modified them slightly for my own purposes. (It’s better if you listen to it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dVP2uTXCoA )
Winter Song (Written by Sarah McLachlan (italics mine))
The lake is frozen over
The trees are white with snow
And all around
Reminders of you
Are everywhere I go
It's late and morning's in no hurry
But sleep won't set me free
I lie awake and try to recall
How it was when you were beside me
When silence gets too hard to handle
And the night too long
Sense of joy fills the air
And I daydream and I stare
Up at the tree and I see
Your decorations there
And this is how I see you
In the snow on Christmas morning
Love and happiness surround you
As you throw your arms up to the sky
I keep this moment by and by
Oh I miss you now, my son,
Merry Christmas, merry Christmas,
Merry Christmas, my son.
Christmas holidays are hard, but I will keep this moment by and by. Merry Christmas Stephen!
Merry Christmas to you and your family. May the love of our Heavenly Father expressed through our Saviour: Jesus Christ, the precious traditions, and the company of your family bring you joy this Christmas & throughout 2020.
Pastor John, Jennifer and the Inthof Family.