When we hear the word “Christmas” it brings up memories, and expectations. Some people wear themselves out preparing the perfect Christmas meal and buying the perfect Christmas gifts. While trying to make everything just right for those they love, they wear themselves out. For them, Christmas is exhausting, but they suffer for those they love.

I’ve been there and done that. But when I think of my favorite Christmases, I always go back to my childhood and remember the Christmas Eve Service at church.

We children traditionally had a Christmas program. Although I don’t remember any standout talent, especially from me, it was always a special evening. The telling of the Christmas story from Luke 2 the same way each year never grows old. Neither do boys as wise men wearing their plaid bathrobes. Or girls as angels, each one wanting to be Mary. A doll wrapped in a blanket represents baby Jesus. Everyone’s on their best behavior, even the wild and woolly ones dressed up as sheep who may “Baaaa” a little too often and squirm just a little too much.

But all that stops with the singing of the hymns.

The whole church singing Christmas hymns together is a precious memory. Especially at the end when someone turns the lights down low. Ushers carrying one lit candle walk down the aisles lighting the end people’s candles. They in turn light the candle of the person standing next to them. It continues all the way down the church pew row until there’s a soft glow.

Someone starts singing “Silent Night” without any accompaniment. Small children’s voices still sweet and innocent joining in with big, booming male adult voices. Along with high sopranos and strong altos all joining together in unity to make sounds so humbly reverent they bring real angels to tears.

The very atmosphere inside that little church seems to change. It’s as if the inside of the church dresses up just like everyone else. Like the boys scrubbed so clean some discovered that they really didn’t have freckles. Girls with naturally stick-straight hair, bouncing around with curls that night. Moms and dads and brothers and sisters wearing their best clothes.

And inside the church there’s a special glow that doesn’t come from the long, cylindrical lights hanging from the ceiling or the candles lit at the altar or even the candles we hold at the end. No, the very church building itself prepares to receive the presence of the Lord that night.

In the Bible Jesus says that “…where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). We were gathered in Jesus’s name to celebrate his wonderful birth, and he was there.

It was his presence that made all the difference. All these years later, it still does.

Christmas isn’t about the special food we have or the gifts we give and receive. Oh, it’s a nice tradition. The making of the annual fudge and decorating the sugar cutout cookies. The buying of gifts is hard work, but it’s fun making others happy. It’s also wonderful to receive a special gift. All of that is nice.

But if we forget about the true reason for Christmas, Jesus’ birth, then all we have is another nice day off. God the Father sent his one and only son to earth to be born in the form of a little baby. Jesus left the throne of Heaven to come here. Where else does a King humble himself in such a way? Then he was born in a stable to a mother and a stepfather of humble means.

Jesus left the manger, grew up and walked among us. He touched the lives of all he met. He died on the cross for each one of us. Becoming exactly what John the Baptist called him, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Jesus left the cross and died. But after three days he rose from the dead. He was on earth a little while longer, then he left earth to go to back to Heaven, where he’s preparing a room for each of us who call him “Lord” and have surrendered our lives to him.

And one day, he’s coming back again. This time as the true King he is. On that day, we believers will truly know that Jesus’ presence is the best present of all. And that’s nothing to “Baaa” at! Merry Christmas!

Kathy Yoder is a devotional writer. She may be reached at kathyyoder4@gmail.com.

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