Christmas is something we receive as a tradition from our ancestors. Each of us is in that long chain of disciples who can say, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” (1 Corinthians 11:23). In fact, even the early Christians understood the coming of Christ among them to be something they received from their ancestors. “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2). This Christmas season, we celebrate once again by repeating the same old story. We tell it again, in our worship, and in our church. We pass on what we have first received as a gift.
Trudy Spike, our council president, recently shared with me an excerpt from her great-great-grandmother’s diary. I consider her brief Christmas morning meditation a perfect example of how our ancestors maintained the faith. She wrote:
“Christmas morning dawned bright & clear. It froze quite hard last night. It has been a very pleasant day, not so very cold. Santa Clause remembered the children & a kind God remembered us all with a bountiful harvest & in also sparing our lives, & all in the enjoyment of good health at present. So much to be appreciated & to feel thankful for& to give thanks to Him who ever remembers us with these blessings, & may He help us each day to live nearer to Him & lead us in the way He would have us go & help us to guard our lips from speaking evil or doing anything wrong, & help us each one so to live that we may be prepared to live with our Savior above as we separate here one by one for a little time. May we be all reunited above, an unbroken family, not one missing one” (Rosanne McKinney Arnold’s diary, dated December 25, 1894).
Christmas is also a story that comes to us new each year, and in each generation. Christmas is always coming again, in the present moment. I’m reminded of a favorite Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, where we sing and pray in the fourth verse, “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.” Jesus Christ is born in our hearts, and is born in human hearts “where meek souls will receive him, still.” When Jesus taught Nicodemus, one of the leader’s of the Jews, about the new life of faith, he said, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (John 3:3). We are born from above when Christ is born in us. Halleluia!
So I encourage you, in these holy days, to find ways to receive the tradition that has been passed on to you as a gracious gift, and then find bold and healthy ways to pass the tradition on. Tell the story again. Read the nativity story from the gospel of Luke when you gather together for Christmas (Luke 2:1-20).
And let us be open, each of us, to the ways we might receive Christ in faith in our hearts now, in our generation. God in Christ can change even as hardened a heart as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. God can warm our hearts, give us new hearts, create in us clean hearts, so that Christ may be born in us today. May it be so with us, and our congregation. May we be so bold as to offer our hearts as the manger where the Christ child can be lay.