Christmas seems best symbolized by the sparkle in a child's eye.
You know, that wonderful expression when the tree is first lit. The moment a baby spots tinsel or a gleaming ornament. The gasp of surprise when they notice lights on a neighbor's home.
When the girls were little, Christmas morning included lots of squealing. Loud. Sometimes continuous. Occasionally competitive squealing. We always started with the lesser gifts and ended with one "BIGGIE" that was usually the most longed for item.
Squealing had to be monitored because we knew it would escalate right along with their level of surprise and excitement.
Then there were the gifts that (once opened) would render the girls totally speechless. That moment of stunned silence signaling to Mom and Dad that the gift truly exceeded the child's greatest hopes. And of course, tears would follow for us.
One year (while we were pioneering the church in Ocean Isle, NC) the BIGGIE wasn't a gift the girls were receiving at all. It was a gift they had lovingly sacrificed and schemed to give Dad and Mom.
Frank and I had no idea. We knew that our Christmas celebration bubbled with extra excitement that morning. We noticed that the girls kept sneaking glances at one another. We felt they rushed a little through the opening of their own gifts; even though there was still lots of hugging, giggling, some squealing, many expressions of gratitude.
A lone box remained under the tree once their gifts had all been opened. But their enthusiasm hadn't waned at all. Quite the opposite! The anticipation swirled all around our living room.
I can't remember the exact sequence. One daughter retrieved the tenderly wrapped package. One daughter instructed Frank and I to sit together and hold the box until their signal. There was a short introduction by another daughter and then all three together shouted, "Now, open!"
Once we had removed the lid from the medium-sized shirt box, we were confused. Carefully taped to the tissue paper inside the box were five twenty dollar bills. We looked up to see three beaming faces; each one sparkling with tears on their precious cheeks.
As their explanation unfolded, tears began to flow down our faces as well.
The sisters had talked earlier in the season about how hard Dad and Mom were both working to make ends meet. It bothered them that we hadn't celebrated our December 30th wedding anniversary for several years. (Never any money left after Christmas for anniversary dinners or gifts.) And our "dates" through out the year usually consisted of a long walk on the trail near our home.
They decided together that this year would be different!
They researched the cost for a nice meal and a movie in Myrtle Beach. Baby-sitting money, allowance and even some birthday money was stashed away for weeks. One of the ladies in our church was approached secretly and they secured a complimentary room for us at the local beachfront hotel. They even made arrangements for themselves to stay at the home of a friend.
And their greatest Christmas joy that year was not in receiving a gift they wanted. But in giving! Giving of themselves and their own limited resources to provide a lavish anniversary celebration for Mom and Dad.
I cringed this morning as I watched a news report about a woman who routinely buys at least eighty-five gifts for each of her children. She had posted a picture on social media of her Christmas tree - almost completely obscured by a mountain of presents. Seems to me she's missed the point. And I fear her children will never comprehend the real delight of this season.
Christmas Joy is best experienced in simplicity and self-sacrifice. Not in extravagance and greed. After all, simplicity and self-sacrifice were the benchmarks for that first Christmas; weren't they?
Not yet in the festive mood? Find a toddler. Watch their eyes as you hand them a shiny toy from the dollar store. Offer some coins for them to drop in the bucket of a Christmas charity collection. Listen to their squeal of delight as you make a silly face. Inhale the sweet fragrance of their Christmas-cookie breath.
Remind yourself that Christmas is best experienced not in receiving but in giving! Then get busy. Create some Joy for someone else and mark the Christmas Sparkle that awakens in your own heart!
Merry Christmas to You!!