One of the miracles of Christmas is that even in a modern society, where you often find yourself seemingly besieged by rampant materialism, the true meaning of Christmas is never entirely lost. Even nonbelievers are moved by the symbolism of an innocent child who represents humanity’s hope and who came to earth to invite each person to reach out to God and to one another. I cannot imagine a more beautiful story.
Arguments with my parents marred my college years. We argued about how much time I spent on expanding my social life, my newfound love for television talk shows, my desire to buy a motorcycle, and a myriad of other things that are trivial in retrospect but were highly emotional issues for me. At the time, I saw my parents as old-fashioned guardians who were blocking my way to the full enjoyment of the prime of my life.
I remember when growing up as a boy in the USA, Thanksgiving was a holiday I looked forward to nearly as much as Christmas. I loved the fall season with its dramatic colors: the browns and yellows, oranges and reds, as the hardwood trees of the Ohio Valley burst forth with praises of thanks to God for the warm and sunny summer He had just given them. One last attestation to the glory of God before finally shedding their leaves and letting them float down to fertilize the ground.
My grandfather, whom I called “Opa,” and I were best buddies. He sharpened my instincts and shared his love for nature during our weekly hikes in the woods.
Each weekend, I eagerly awaited the moment when I was dropped off at Opa and Oma’s one-bedroom apartment in a small town at the heart of Germany’s industrial center.
In the doctor’s office where I work, we have a regular patient by the first name of Blender. That is her legal, given name. I haven’t had an opportunity to ask about the back story, but I am so curious as to what made parents name their child after a kitchen appliance. Maybe it means something beautiful in another language. I have no idea!
One day when I was nine, my older brother and I went for a swim. I hadn’t yet learned how to swim properly and could only do a little dog-paddling and floating on my back. My older brother was an excellent swimmer, which was why my parents had sent him along to keep an eye on me. He and I had argued that morning over something I can’t even remember, so I was annoyed that my parents insisted on him being there. I was determined to do my own thing and insisted on swimming laps by myself.
One day about three years ago, my father invited his five children, married and parents themselves, to accompany him and my mother to the Holy Land. He was already 85 and hadn’t been traveling or flying for quite a few years. Up to that point, I think he had been feeling old and a bit worried and fearful and had sort of closed that chapter of his life. But that day something happened, the result of a combination of his desire to visit again the places his beloved Jesus had grown up in and his eagerness to take a trip with his family, something we hadn’t done since we had all been pretty young.
We children had always wanted a real Christmas tree—a tall, lavishly decorated one, like other families had. It would have “singing” lights, silver tinsel, and glass ornaments dressing its snow-topped branches. And of course, the space beneath it would be overflowing with presents.
He was once quite tall and carried an air of confidence and authority wherever he went. When he was young, he dedicated every spare moment, including his holidays, to Christian youth ministry. He had gone through a personal conversion in his early twenties and was very zealous in his beliefs and practices. He’d organize summer camps in the mountains for flocks of youth who had just gone through the hard years following WW2 and needed a father or an older brother figure.
Not so long ago, the various members of our family had different schedules, and as a result, we were seldom able to eat together. I couldn’t help feeling that our family was drifting apart—especially since visiting an Italian friend who taught me what a joy “breaking bread” together can be.