Christmas came in August

I can still remember stopping in the middle of Kohl’s and reading it for the first time… It wasn’t anything big or show-stopping – just the truth, written on a simple Christmas card. The truth that was put so beautifully that I knew in that moment that it would stick with me forever. And it has.

“An ordinary night with ordinary sheep and ordinary shepherds. And were it not for a God who loves to hook an “extra” on the front of ordinary, the night would have gone unnoticed. The sheep would have been forgotten, and the shepherds would have slept the night away. But God dances amidst the common. And that night he did a waltz.” – Max Lucado

I wiped the tears from my eyes, bought that pack of cards, and went home to look up the beautiful prose from which it came. When I did, I came across this:

“It’s Christmas night. The midnight hour has chimed and I should be asleep, but I’m awake. I’m kept awake by one stunning thought. The world was different this week. It was temporarily transformed. The magical dust of Christmas glittered on the cheeks of humanity ever so briefly, reminding us of what is worth having and what we were intended to be. We forgot our compulsion with winning, wooing, and warring. We put away our ladders and ledgers, we hung up our stop watches and weapons. We stepped off our racetracks and roller coasters and looked outward toward the star of Bethlehem.

It’s the season to be jolly because, more than at any other time, we think of him. More than in any other season, his name is on our lips. And the result? For a few precious hours our heavenly yearnings intermesh and we become a chorus. A ragtag chorus of longshoremen, Boston lawyers, illegal immigrants, housewives, and a thousand other peculiar persons who are banking that Bethlehem’s mystery is in reality, a reality. “Come and behold him” we sing, stirring even the sleepiest of shepherds and pointing them toward the Christ-child.

For a few precious hours, he is beheld. Christ the Lord. Those who pass the year without seeing him, suddenly see him. People who have been accustomed to using his name in vain, pause to use it in praise. Eyes, now free of the blinders of self, marvel at his majesty. All of a sudden he’s everywhere. In the grin of the policeman as he drives his paddy wagon full of presents to the orphanage.

In the twinkle in the eyes of the Taiwanese waiter as he tells of his upcoming Christmas trip to see his children. In the emotion of the father who is too thankful to finish the dinner table prayer. He’s in the tears of the mother as she welcomes home her son from overseas. He’s in the heart of the man who spent Christmas morning on skid row giving away cold baloney sandwiches and warm wishes. And he’s in the solemn silence of the crowd of shopping mall shoppers as the elementary school chorus sings “Away in a Manger.” Emmanuel. He is with us. God came near.

It’s Christmas night. In a few hours the cleanup will begin — lights will come down, trees will be thrown out. Size 36 will be exchanged for size 40, eggnog will be on sale for half-price. Soon life will be normal again. December’s generosity will become January’s payments and the magic will begin to fade. But for the moment, the magic is still in the air. Maybe that’s why I’m still awake. I want to savor the spirit just a bit more. I want to pray that those who beheld him today will look for him next August. And I can’t help but linger on one fanciful thought: if he can do so much with such timid prayers lamely offered in December, how much more could he do if we thought of him every day?” – Max Lucado

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the magic of Christmas. I love the way that the whole world seems to stop and remember that the greatest gift of Christmas has always been Christ – a child. I felt that way as a kid when I watched the Sesame Street characters sing “Keep Christmas with you.” I felt that way when my grade school class learned Amy Grant’s “Emmanuel” in sign language. I felt that way as I sang “Mary did you know?”, pregnant with my own son. And I feel that way every year as I hold my children close and realize a tiny bit of what God was really sacrificing when he sent his baby boy into our world.

A piece of heaven to be found in the ordinary.

I think about it often. God’s sacrifice and the magic of Christmas. And how if we really opened our hearts, we could find those bits of heaven sprinkled amidst our everyday life – all year long.

The everyday extraordinary.

I’m not always great at finding it, but I try. This year I tried extra, extra hard because of the difficult times I faced. But admittedly my mind and my heart have moved past it a little. I’ve been so caught up in being normal, that I’ve lost a little bit of that “magical dust of Christmas”. I’m sad to say that Christmas became more of a milestone for me than an actual holiday this year. I enjoyed every moment with my family, of course, but I got so caught up in the planning and wrapping and gathering and gifting that I forgot the real gift – a child. God came near.

Still wearing my holiday blinders, I went to the yearly gathering at my Grandma’s. It was different this year. I think anytime you lose someone and the holidays come without them, it’s hard. For my mom’s family this year, that was the case… My grandma – the matriarch of our family – passed away back in August. It was a hard thing for everyone and as much as all of her grandchildren felt an empty space this year as we celebrated Christmas, I could see the loss in my mom’s eyes and the eyes of all her siblings.

Christmas just wasn’t the same.

I knew going into it that this would be the case and so as our family began to gather on Christmas Eve at my grandma’s home, I watched – silently waiting to give a hug to someone who needed it… especially my mom.

And then my mom stood in the midst of us all and said the family prayer. She spoke of faith, those less fortunate, blessed the food, and then she spoke of family. Specifically of the last days that she and her siblings spent with their mom – the week during which she and a lot of her siblings moved back home and spent every waking moment at their mother’s side. She welled up with tears as she explained that those last days spent with her mom and her siblings was something she would always treasure.

For her, she said, “Christmas came in August.”

Of course… God came near.

I cried as I listened to my mom’s voice falter with emotion. I realized that somewhere along the line, I’d let myself slip. Those little glimpses of Christmas had gotten lost in the shuffle of getting back to “normal”. And suddenly all my Christmas moments throughout the last year came streaming back to me. Those moments where God touched my life so deeply that it was almost as if he had sent his baby boy to walk beside me – or carry me. Some were big. Some were small… They ranged from the prayer service that my parish planned for me, to the night Emma said that she loved me twenty-seven. Some weren’t moments at all – some were people. My brother who was there with me the day I found out that chemo was over and the night at the piano where we discovered that I could sing again (kind of). 🙂 My father-in-law who tracked down the episodes of Mission Impossible for me or sent me the perfect song when I needed it most. My mom and mother-in-law who dropped everything to make sure that my kids were cared for. My dad… who shared a piece of himself with me as we faced cancer head-on. Toby who was my constant pillar of support… The list goes on and on.

This year, I was blessed with millions of Christmases – each one bringing it’s own unique gifts. Each one revealing Christ beside me in different ways, through different people.

I am so grateful that God chose to dance amidst my common. This year more than ever.

Merry Christmas.
Annie


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7 thoughts on “Christmas came in August”

  • You are wonderful!

    I just downloaded Max Lucado’s Fearless to my e-reader and can’t wait to begin reading it! His words are so true.

  • Most definitely in tears right now. I stand in awe of you, of your strength, love and passion. I adore this picture, and the simple peace that seems to be on your face, and in your embrace with Emma.

  • WOW, Annie! You are so talented with the gift of the word! I am so deeply moved by your insight and ability to capture the magic and sacredness of life!! Isn’t it amazing that in one moment, all was revealed to you of the ways that God has stirred the “extra” into your ordinary! You are EXTRAORDINARY!!!! I love you!

  • Yes, Annie, there is a Santa Claus – but not in the commercial sense. He is the spirit of all that is magical and good in the world around you. He is the magic of the snowfalkes that fall from heaven above. He is the twinkle in your children’s eyes as they themselves anticipate his visit on Christmas. I, myself, have always felt that the magic of Christmas is something you find in your heart and the love you give to others during those rushed and pressured times during the holidays. It is the peace of Christ and all that he brings to all our lives – not just on Christmas but each and everyday. Merry Christmas, Annie, and may you always feel the magic inside your heart and the peace of Christ in your life.

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