Last Christmas I was a few months into a new job. My new office was an hour from my home, my hours were from 2:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., and I worked on Saturdays. I was always exhausted and out of sync with everyone in my life. And I had to work on Christmas Day!
One by one the prisoners filed into the small meeting hall. Each one wore the same gray outfit and had the same closely trimmed haircut, but their faces showed that each was an individual with his own story of what had brought him to this place.
“I am arranging for the most hardened and dangerous criminals to watch your program,” the warden had told us. “Many of them will never see freedom again. They are the ones who most need to hear what you have to say.”
My wife has a fondness for miniature nativities, or manger scenes, as they are sometimes called. Twenty-five years ago she made small nativity figurines as gifts for her family. She sculpted them from clay, painted them at the kitchen table, and then baked them in the oven. Her sister still displays her set every Christmas.
Christmas was God’s big splash, the greatest miracle ever—His love in the form of His only Son, Jesus, sent down to earth to lead us back to Him. And Christmas is still a time for miracles. Like ripples traveling out from that splash, little Christmas miracles remind us of God’s unfailing love.
One day I noticed that my dentist friend, Dr. Rina, was looking a bit sad. We often meet for coffee, but today Rina wasn’t her usual bubbly self. I asked her what was wrong and she answered:
“Well, Christmas is coming up, and I’m just feeling kind of sad. As you know, both of my children are married and live far away. And I don’t have any grandchildren yet.”
On the Christmas Eve of my sophomore year in college, I was trying, and failing miserably, to feel “Christmas fuzzies.” Part of it was that the excitement of my freshman year was gone, and I was battling a bout of end-of-semester fatigue, coupled with frustration over an assignment that I’d been struggling with. I sat waiting outside my professor’s office to discuss the aforementioned problematic paper, while reminiscing wistfully on the carefree good cheer of childhood Christmas festivities.
I was thinking about my mom on her birthday, and realized that there was something very special about my childhood—the times we spent together. More specifically, I was thinking about the Christmases when I was small. The thing that made each memory special wasn’t the number or value of the gifts we received or the Christmas parties we attended. Rather, it was the simple things.
I grew up in Communist Romania, where there was a state ban on religion, so “finding Christmas” wasn’t easy.
“Don’t use the word ‘Christmas’ at school or with people you don’t know,” I remember being told when I turned school age. We used the word at home because some members of my extended family were old enough to have grown up before the ban and still secretly kept the holiday. With everyone else, the tree was to be called “the New Year tree.” Christmas was “the winter holiday.” If we children received gifts, there was no mention of Christmas attached.