All of the twinkling lights, the aromas of cinnamon and homemade fudge, the jolly music, the pageants, and the mysterious expectation that seems to hang in the air—Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. As a child, getting ready for Christmas meant cutting and decorating the tree with my family, baking sugar cookies with Grandma, finding the perfect gift for each person, and wrapping my older brother’s gift in duct tape. Every year, we’d set up Mom’s ceramic nativity scene that my great-aunt had made and be reminded of the story of Jesus’s birth. The traditions kept each Christmas season comfortably like the last.
But one year Christmas changed.
It was a cold December night in a little town on the eastern Colorado prairie. I was five days past my due date, and our long awaited baby had finally decided to join us. As I puttered around the living room, I plugged in the lights for the tree that I had strung and restrung only days earlier in my nesting craze. There in the dim glow of the tree I labored throughout the night, and at 4:35 in the morning, a beautiful baby girl was born. As I sat in the glow of the tree holding my newborn, my heart was flooded with intense love like I had never experienced before. How could such a little person change my whole world?
After the initial rush of euphoria subsided and the midwives had gone home, I sat nestled on our couch surrounded by my Christmas decorations cradling my perfect little baby in my arms. It was then that my gaze wandered from my newborn’s face to my nativity perched on the piano and my mind traveled to another young woman a half a world and many centuries away- a woman who labored and gave birth in a far less delightful setting. The one who said, “Yes,” to carrying and birthing my Savior.
This love so strong that it made my heart ache—did she feel it too? As she sat in that smelly stable in Bethlehem so long ago, did she count her baby’s fingers and toes? As she nursed him, did she hold his little hand and never want to let go? Did she think of what was in store for him? Did she mourn the end even in the beginning? And what about God? As he looked down on his Son lying in the manger fulfilling his plan, did his heart ache with love and pain?
And just like that, Christmas changed for me. No longer was it just about the frivolities of the season with a bit of Bible story thrown in for good measure. It was about love all wrapped up in a baby. The beauty of the lights, the smells, the music- they were arrows pointing to the Star of Christmas. They were pointing to the very thing that was the mysterious expectation—God’s love for the world brought to me through the baby Jesus. It had been there all along in every reading of the Christmas story, in every Christmas pageant, in the carols sung, and in every nativity scene. No longer was Christmas just a fun holiday to celebrate and a time to tell the story of Jesus’s birth. Now it was a sacred time for remembering the love God has all of us. That love that made my heart ache at the sight of my precious baby girl was the same love that God shared with me through his son sent to us as a baby in a dusty stable in a little town so many years ago.
This year the baby whose birth changed Christmas for me turns five, and I am thrilled to share Christmas with her. In keeping with the traditions, we’ll cut a tree and cover it with lots of twinkly lights, dance to the jolly music, bake some goodies, find the perfect gifts for our loved ones, and be a part of a living nativity. In those traditions, I hope that she feels that mysterious expectation and catches a glimpse of the power of the love that made Christmas. And if you see me wiping a tear or two away while listening to the carols or looking at the nativity, just know that I’m thinking of the night that changed Christmas.