It's been a very different sort of Christmas this year at the Smith household. My family held their big gathering Saturday down in Houston, since a majority of us scattered Smith siblings and offspring now reside in that area. Patty and I weren't able to make it for a variety of reasons, mainly because travel is becoming increasingly difficult for us given our responsibilities as caregivers. Then my daughter Rebecca is now gone from the nest, living with her husband Joseph in El Paso, so our house is a little more empty than in previous years. On top of that there is the matter of sickness - I've had a nagging cough for several weeks now that I can't quite shake, and my poor wife has had pinkeye, asthma, and bronchitis going on for two weeks now - one thing gets better and the other gets worse, it seems! So, with all this in mind, we have no big gathering planned tomorrow, no host of company coming over, just us four here at home quietly celebrating among ourselves. It would be easy to feel melancholy about this year's lack of shared cheer.
But then I reflect, in the words of my favorite musical, "how lucky we are to be alive right now!" We have been most richly blessed in more ways than I can count. Despite mild seasonal illnesses, we both remain in solid health overall. I just turned 56, but I have the blood pressure of a teenager and I can still put in a full day hiking on the river and keep up with guys half my age. I'm still married to my high school sweetheart, and after 35 years we still love each other, and more importantly, we LIKE each other. We just went to see the last movie of the STAR WARS saga in the theater together in the same town where we saw the first movie in the series 42 years ago, as a couple! We've raised two beautiful daughters who are loving, big-hearted, and fun to be around. We have a wonderful church home, we both enjoy our jobs, and we have food in the fridge, presents under the tree, and a roof over our heads. As an author, I have published five novels in five short years, and have a head full of stories waiting to be told yet!
So as I sit here on Christmas Eve, thinking about what has gone before and what lies ahead, I think about all my friends and the people who matter to me, some of whom have far more reason to be melancholy than I do. I think of one of my very closest friends, whom I will not name here, separated from her kids and her husband while serving our country on the far side of the world, and I pray for her safe return. I think of my favorite artifact-hunting partner, battling serious illness and trying his best to live life to the fullest despite his daily battle with pain, and pray for his health to improve. I think of the precious family in my school whose eleven year old son is fighting for his life against childhood leukemia (#prayfortrevor!), and I pray that this will be the year their lives return to normal. Despite their woes, each one of these precious people has taken the time to celebrate this remarkable season of the year with good cheer and brave hearts, which makes my grousing earlier today about "the worst Christmas ever" ring pretty hollow in my own ears.
Most of all, I think about the remarkable event that we celebrate during this season. You see, two thousand years ago history was torn asunder as the Creator of the Universe stepped down to earth and took on human form. As the Apostle John put it, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." I believe that - every word of it. I've been laughed at for my faith on more than one occasion; I've been ridiculed and told that I was brainwashed into belief as a child. I've been told that I am incapable of rational thought because of the simple fact that I believe in God. But none of that matters to me. I am a historian, a scholar of the past, a student of antiquity. I believe that the Jesus of the Gospels IS the Jesus of history, and I believe that He did what the Gospels say He did and that He was who the Gospels say He was. That belief has sustained me throughout my adult life and will sustain me till the day I die!
Everyone shares their faith in different ways. While I have served as a pastor and a teacher for many years, I believe my greatest gift is the gift of storytelling. So whether I am sharing the Christmas story from the pulpit, or talking about the Crucifixion in front of my World History class (at a Christian school, I might add!), or writing about the adventures of a fictional crew of Biblical archeologists, or re-telling the story of Christianity's early years from the perspective of a jaded Roman bureaucrat, my faith permeates everything I do, and is interwoven into every story that I tell. Because what I believe IS who I am. Because I believe, not just in "the Spirit of Christmas," but in the One whose birth we celebrate this season.
So wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whether you are at home or far away, whether you are with your loved ones in the flesh or in spirit only, whether you are well or ill, I want to take this chance to wish you and yours a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS, from our house to yours, in the name of the CHRIST we celebrate today.
May all your days be merry and bright.