It's getting close. The actual celebration is upon us in 48 hours or so (or already over, depending on when you read this.) I hope it's going to be a real celebration. There are any number of elements that make Christmas a celebratory occasion: gathering of family from far and near, repeating traditions handed down from generations past, the blessing of new family members, the rich blessings of the previous year, new toys, clothes, and treats of every variety delivered by a jolly old elf driving a sleigh pulled by reindeer.
And the baby! That wonderful baby who is God-with-us.
It's very hard to keep the baby at the center of the celebration. The preparations are so overwhelming that the baby is, well, like a baby! Tiny and helpless and easily moved from place to place; a treasure and a trial, all at the same time. Sometimes the baby gurgles and coos and calls you to come and play with him: Christmas programs, choir rehearsals, festive lights because the light of the world is coming. Other times the baby pierces the air with screams that indicate displeasure or discomfort, inciting you to action, making you want to help: Bell ringers stand outside of stores and restaurants incessantly clanging, reminding us of people in need. Our mailboxes are flooded with appeals from a myriad of good causes all tugging at our hearts, making us wish we could make it all better. And sometimes the baby sleeps and has almost no impact on life at all but is always there, in the background, a factor that must be considered when making decisions and preparations. How wise of God to come to earth in this fashion. It is much harder to dismiss a baby than a grown-up.
So, here are two final suggestions for the Extreme Season. First, bake a cake. Bake, or buy, a birthday cake for the Baby Jesus. Your littlest celebrants will immediately connect the dots - cake, baby, birthday. They know what that means! Serve your birthday cake, complete with candles, as dessert at your main Christmas Day meal. Sing "Happy birthday dear Jesus, happy birthday to you." This one simple project puts Jesus at the center of the Christmas celebration and makes him the Guest of Honor.
My second suggestion: Revive the ancient custom of celebrating Christmas for twelve days. Such a great event can't really be celebrated in one day. Christmas Day can be the first day of celebration. This year most of us will have Monday off, so celebrate again on Monday. In the "olden days" January 26 was Boxing Day - the day when things displaced by the newly received gifts were given to the poor. Celebrate by making room for all the new things that came into your home on Christmas. For many people, the day after Christmas is Visiting Day. Maybe you can celebrate by making plans to visit friends as the year wanes.
When the day has passed, hold the joy close to you. Cradle it, as if it were a new baby arriving in your home. Treasure the Child, not just this one day, but every day, and the next time the season arrives you'll be prepared to be less extreme, and more serene. Merry Christmas!