I will never forget the Christmas of 1991. For me, it remains by far the most precious holiday celebration I’ve ever had.
Prior to that Christmas, during my second year in college, I had genuinely experienced God’s person — in love, in holiness, in power — for the first time. Even though I grew up attending church, it wasn’t until that year that I earnestly sought to follow Jesus and live in relationship with Him.
It was a time when my heart was so warmed and delighted by the simple knowledge that Jesus was real, that He was ALIVE, that He loved me, and that He was with me in the here and now. I carried the uncomplicated pleasure of those truths with me that night in 1991 as my family walked into Centre St. United Methodist Church in sleepy little Cumberland, MD to attend a candlelight Christmas Eve service.
I could barely contain myself.
I had always loved the way the sanctuary looked and felt at Christmas time; even though it wasn’t adorned any differently that year, I suddenly found it sublime. The altar was awash in a sea of poinsettias, a Chrismon tree glittered to the left of the pulpit, candles were lit in the stained glass windows, greenery set with white lights and red bows lined the edges of the choir loft, and oh, the music!
As we sang familiar Christmas hymns, I struggled to master my emotions. For the first time, as I sang “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen,” I was the errant one for whom Christ our Lord and Savior came to save from Satan’s power. When I sang “O Holy Night,” it was my heart that swelled with a thrill of hope at the breaking of a new and glorious morning — how could I not fall on my knees?
In the end, I did somehow manage not to collapse in a blubbering heap in the pew. A few tears were the only evidence of the fact that I was bursting inside with a new revelation: the living truth of what we celebrate at Christmas had found expression in little ol’ me. Jesus had come not only to the world, but to me. The Word became flesh not only in a manger 2000 years ago, but also when the Living Lord took up residence in me by His Spirit.
Fifteen Christmases have passed since then, and too many times the hustle and bustle of the season have gotten the best of me. In more recent years, I’ve found that Christmas sneaks up on me and is gone before I have the chance to contemplate it anew or to be formed by it. And every time that happens, I remember the Christmas of 1991 and grieve a lost opportunity to grow closer to God.
Well, this year I’ve resolved not to let the sixteenth Christmas since 1991 pass the same way. If there’s anything Christmas teaches us, it’s that God’s love for us is stronger than any human measure. And He expresses that love to us not only in the first Christmas, not only in the Christmas of 2007, but in real time — each and every single day. The question is, are we too busy and weighed down with the cares of this world to notice or respond?
I pray that a renewed sense of His love and affection for you will permeate your holiday celebration like it never has before.
Have a 1991 Christmas!
aka The MonT-SteR