A few Wednesdays ago, sitting at our weekly dinner with Tim and his brother, Nate, I quizzed them about their favorite Christmas memories. Tim and Nate are two of three children, their older sister still in Ohio with her husband and three kids, and, as two boys only 13 months apart, they shared a room until the day she left home, when they were ages 16 and 17. They stayed housemates, first in Ohio, then in Tennessee, until the day Tim and I got married and he moved out to live with me. So I like asking them together about their childhood because, in the way that your best friend remembers things about that summer road trip that you forget, the two of them round out each other’s stories. “What were some of your favorite Christmas foods?” I was asking the two men that people still call by each other’s name. Tim said pasta. Nate tried to think. But before long they were telling me about the piles of cookies their mom made every year, from cathedral cookies (marshmallows peek out between layers of cookies, creating what looks like stained glass) to kolachkys (a favorite in my childhood, too) to what Tim referred to as “color cookies,” something I’d never heard of before.
“You remember them, Nate, the ones that had food coloring in them? Red and blue and gold and green?”
As kids, they hadn’t liked the color cookies best, it came out, not compared to the chocolate chip or Mexican wedding balls or other treats, but, still, thinking about them now reminds them of their mom, a woman I like to hear about because I am sad to say I never got to meet. Sometimes while I’m talking to the two of them, I wish their mom could see who her sons became—two of the kindest, most faithful, thoughtful men I’ve known, who are secure in who they are, who aren’t afraid of conflict, who love Jesus in a way that hits their lives.
Thinking about traditional Christmases is probably on my mind so much this year because December 2013 has been an unusual Christmas season for Tim and me. We’ve been so overwhelmed with extra work hours, we almost didn’t get a tree—but, for the record, I’m glad I deferred to Tim on that decision and we went ahead and bought one, if only for the many, many hours I’ve now spent beside it, working on my laptop in the glow of white bulb lights. We had a night a few weeks ago, looking at our responsibilities and projects for the month and both realizing the same thing, that there would be no way to get it all done, so we agreed we’d have to turn down party invitations and last-minute tickets to Handel’s Messiah (!!) and, if we were going to be really responsible, skip giving each other gifts. Since we bought a new camera last month (!), it’s not such a tragedy. But what has felt like a tragedy is the need for quiet, the need for anticipation, the need to reflect on things that matter more than book deadlines or work hours or gift lists or travel plans.
The Christmas season is a joyful season because it a story of Light coming into darkness, of Hope being birthed in a stable stall. Perhaps it’s no coincidence it falls a few days after Winter Solstice, the day when light starts lengthening each day, when months of things growing darker and darker finally breaks through to light. It occurs to me right now, writing this post, sitting in a few treasured moments of quiet before we leave town tomorrow, that the message of this season is entirely relevant to the life season Tim and I find ourselves in now. When we are overwhelmed at the holidays, we want to think of simpler times, of what you might consider weaker times, of childhood when someone else provided for us, loved us, cared for us, bought us presents when we couldn’t buy any for anyone ourselves. And in doing so, perhaps we are taking on the position we need to assume all year. We’re often so good at seeing ourselves as something, as strong, as talented, as so Not the One in Need, but Christmas is the season we remember just how much we cost—and how to love us, the Strong One who was rich become poor. He humbled Himself for us. Christmas is the celebration of the fact that we, in reality, are poor and needy, we are tired and weary, we are insufficient in ourselves, even when we think that’s not true. And this month as Tim and I have been feeling our need, we are taking that need to the Need-Meeter, the Love Giver, the Savior, born in Bethlehem, in the city of David, Christ the Lord.