The Christmas Baby

When I was growing up, I had many favorite Christmas traditions: baking, decorating and delivering Christmas cookies to some of the elderly members of our church; listening to Chrsitmas music; watching Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life or Bing Crosby in White Christmas (and, for some strange reason, The Sound of Music ) all of which came on the TV as this was before the time of VCRs and DVD players.  Singing Christmas carols at church all through December; pulling decorations out of the box and hearing my mother recount where she had gotten them; caroling around the tiny village with my church; sipping hot chocolate in the glow of the Christmas lights. These were a few of my favorite things.

But there was one special thing about Christmas in my family that seemed to make the holiday extra exciting.  My mother is a Christmas Eve baby.

I was always slightly jealous of my mother’s Christmas Eve birthday. How wonderful it seemed to me to be able to share a birthday with the baby Jesus! The lights, the decorations, the foods, the carols, the parties and gifts  … why all of those wonderful activities and traditions must make a Christmas birthday seem to last forever! And who wouldn’t want to extend their birthday celebration out for as long as possible?

The countdown to my own September birthday began as soon as school started in mid-August. I was prone to making a big deal of the countdown, especially during the last week, while dreaming of all the gifts I would open and the fancy cake my grandmother would make me. The most exciting thing about my birthday is that I would be the center of attention!

But my mother never expected anyone to remember or make a fuss over her birthday. She didn’t seem to care if she only got one gift labeled for both birthday and Christmas among all the wrapped presents under the tree, and seemed to actually prefer to think about what good things she could do for others instead of thinking about how people might pay attention to her. And perhaps most of all, she seemed to insist that her three children put our Christmas focus on the Christmas Child in the manger and the reason for His Holy birth instead of putting even an ounce of importance that it was her birthday too.

I suppose a part of me figured she did those things because she was all grown up and grown ups aren’t supposed to love their own birthdays quite as much as little children do. And yet I don’t think that was the case at all. My mother, it seems, was always gracious about her birthday and not prone to expecting a big to-do over it.

I know this to be true because tucked away in my mother’s wedding album was a letter, written in my grandmother’s beautiful cursive handwriting. The fragile paper yellowed, dated December 24th of the year my mom turned 4 years old, contained my grandmother’s recollections of my mom’s 4th birthday party, just a day or two prior. All the neighborhood children came because Santa was going to make an appearance at the party. When it came my mother’s turn to sit on Santa’s knee, she asked him to bring a doll to a little girl who didn’t have one to play with. My grandmother recorded her as saying, “I already have a lot of dolls and toys.”  

Most Christmases, I pulled out that precious letter and read it to myself, wondering about the little girl who had grown up to be my mother. How could she be so good even when she was so little? Even my grandmother seemed to marvel at her oldest daughter’s generosity.

As a child, I firmly believed that my mother got to share her birthday with Jesus because she was so very lovely and good. I would looked longingly at the old photos of her childhood, thinking how her white-blonde hair, bright blue eyes and sweet smile gave her the appearance of a tiny angel without wings. I wished I could be that lovely, too.

Instead, I felt more like Maria from The Sound of Music, desiring so much to be a good girl but constantly getting sidetracked by my own character flaws and failings.

Christmas only seemed to highlight this problem. After all, Santa Claus brought gifts to good children. The big question every year was would you end up on the naughty or the nice list? I never actually knew anyone on the naughty list. Even the worst kids in school got gifts from Santa! At the same time, deep down I knew that my ability to be good wasn’t very good either. My anxious little heart worried over being good enough all year long, especially at Christmas.

The trouble is none of us are good enough. The standard has been set and we absolutely fail at hitting that mark. The sum of our sins is remarkably high. Like the United States debt marker climbing to ridiculous numbers no one can truly fathom, our individual and collective sin debt soars to insurmountable heights.

Oh, we try to make it right, don’t we? Volunteer for a charity. Give money to the needy. Show up to work on time. Be polite. Do your best. Never give up. Be good. Do better. In the end all the matters is that you do more good things that bad things. That’s how you end up on the nice list … right?

Um … Really? I mean, it sounds good but is it even possible?

I can’t even manage to do more positive actions than negative ones in just one day, much less over my lifetime. Not a day goes by when I don’t say something snarky to my husband or rant at the car ahead of me in the line at the red light while cursing the driver in the depths of my mind. I sigh when my kids ask me for a favor that’s a bit inconvenient for me. I roll my eyes when someone does something I don’t like at work. I gossip. I exaggerate the truth (because I don’t want to call it what it is … a straight up lie). And on top of all that, I’m rather prone to being stingy, ungrateful, and totally self-centered.

Be good?!?

Ha! I know me and I know I am anything but good. The ugly truth is I cannot manage to be good for even half an hour, much less be good enough to eventually gain heaven.

I’m on the naughty list. You are too. Even my sweet little angel momma with her Christmas Eve birthday is on the naughty list. Because none of us is good enough.

That’s the bad news of Christmas.

Don’t worry … there is good Christmas news.

Remember the Christmas story? The angel visits the shepherds in the field and says,

“Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you GOOD NEWS of great joy that will be for all the people … :

Luke 2: 10 CSB

Shepherds, who were not good enough even to be considered upstanding citizens in their day, got the news first. And then, without hesitation, they raced off into he night in search of the baby born to save the world.

They found Him … just as the angels said, lying in the manger, wrapped in strips of cloth. He was the good news of Christmas, for God knew we would never be good enough to be on the nice list. Not on our own anyway. So He gave us Jesus, the baby in the manger, God in the flesh, fresh from heaven, born simply to be good enough for us all.

Perhaps the sweetest part of the story is those unworthy shepherds left the Holy Infant and went back into the night to tell everyone about the things they had seen and heard.

Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere …

And what were they telling?

That the best and greatest gift of Christmas is that we don’t have to worry about being good enough anymore for the One who is good enough for us all has been born. His name is Jesus.

Merry Christmas and joy to the world!

Love,

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