December 17, 2008

twelve days of christmas? no, it's three levels!

did you know that there are three levels of christmas? there are! and each level is important. christmas isn't christmas without each one of these levels. this is such a beautiful time of year. it's full of excitement, giving, loving, and blessings! each level of christmas builds on one another. let's discuss what each level represents.

but before we do, let me just say that this is not something I came up with. it is an idea that has been added to for years, if not centuries.
here it is:

level #1: the santa claus level
this is the level of christmas trees and holly, of whispered secrets and colorful packages, of candlelight and rich food and warm open houses. it’s carolers in shopping malls, excited children and weary but loving parents. it’s the level at which we eat too much and spend too much and do too much --- and enjoy every minute of it. we love the santa claus level of christmas.

But there's a higher, more beautiful level:

level #2: the silent night level
it’s the level of all of our glorious christmas carols, of that beloved, familiar story: “now in those days there went out a decree from caesar augustus...” it’s the level of the crowded inn and the silent holy moment in a dark stable when the Son of Man came to earth. it’s shepherds on steep, bare hills near bethlehem, angels with their glad tidings, a new star in the east, wise men traveling far in search of the Holy One. how beautiful and meaningful it is; how infinitely poorer we would be without this sacred second level of christmas!

the trouble is, these two levels don't last. they can't! twelve days of christmas, at the first level, is about all most of us can stand. it's too intense, too extravagant. the tree dries out and the needles fall. the candles burn down and the beautiful wrapping paper goes out with the trash. the carolers are up on the ski slopes, the toys break, and the biggest day in the stores of the entire year is exchange day, december 26th. the feast is over, the dieting begins. but the lonely and the hungry are with us still -- perhaps lonelier and hungrier than before.

as lovely and joyous as the first level of christmas is, there will come a day, very soon, when mother will put away the decorations and vacuum the living room and think, "thank goodness that's over for another year!"
and even the second level, the level of Baby Jesus, can't last. how many times this season can you sing "silent night"? the angels and the star and the shepherds, even the silent, sacred mystery of that holy night itself, can't long satisfy humanity's basic need. the man who keeps Christ in the manger will, in the end, be disappointed and empty.

no, for christmas to last all year long, for it to grow in beauty and meaning and purpose, for it to have the power to change lives, we must celebrate it at the third level.

level #3: the Savior Jesus Christ, the
living Christ level

this is Christ who reached out and touched the untouchable
, who so loved us all that even in His agony on the cross He prayed forgiveness for His enemies. this is the Christ. creator of worlds without number, who wept, enoch tells us, because so many of us lack affection and hate each other -- and then who willingly gave His life for all of us, including those for whom He wept. this is the Christ, the adult Christ, who gave us the perfect example, and asked us to follow Him. accepting that invitation is the only way to celebrate christmas all year and all life long.

i will keep christmas in my heart.