I have written in this column previously about a practice in my home when I was growing up that was, as far as I know, unique to my own mother. During the first week of Advent each year, she would take lipstick and write scripture verses and yuletide expressions on the mirrors of our home... and we had some big mirrors. Things like "For unto us a child is born" and "Joy to the world!" Or a brief paraphrase from some of the better-known nativity passages from Luke's Gospel. I enjoyed coming home from school to find that mom had made her rounds through the house, and I would follow the trail of mirrors to see what greetings our family would be considering for the Advent season that year.
It was a simple tradition to be sure. It would never win an award for creativity, but it always served the purpose of reminding me that there was a cause - a Person - behind the season. The Christmas season was filled with fun and laughter in my home; my siblings and I got to unwrap a few presents, and it always meant some of the older ones would be coming home for the holidays, which was a treat in a large family where we may go many months, sometimes even more than a year, without seeing one another. But I always knew that Christmas was about the birth of a Savior, even during the years when I did not really put much thought into that wonderful reality. When, as a teenager, I began to care, I did not have to reach far into my memory to find the rudiments of the gospel to ponder and marvel over.
My mother's quotes on the mirrors did not lead me to the cross, but they did remind me that there was a child born into the world who would do something very important to bring about a hope for salvation. In the midst of many joyful Advent seasons, those quotes were right there, igniting my imagination and planting our family celebration firmly in the word of God. In my home, Christmas was joyful for the reasons I expressed above, but it was never just about fun and gifts. My mother made sure that the season was grounded in the bedrock reality that Jesus, the Savior of the world, was born. The final grounding always took place at midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, when the bells and smells of that special service took me back to Bethlehem and caused me to rejoice in my own private way at the wonder of the season. Sadly, so many real traditions are lost in our culture today. They have been replaced by an ever increasing secularism which demands that, in order not to offend anyone, we jettison the truth in exchange for a lie that promises us joy and hope by rounding off all the sharp edges of the Christmas story and replaces the glad tidings of the angels who announced the Savior’s birth with shopping and the less-than-awe-inspiring “spirit of Christmas.”
I don't know about your Christmas memories. Some may be better than my own, and some, no doubt, are filled with memories of an intoxicated parent making a mockery of God's love, or of the death of a loved one, or of a year when the family finances would not allow for Christmas festivities. Maybe you had no biological family with whom to celebrate. Life has both its joys and sorrows. If you are a young couple beginning a family, let me highly recommend that you establish some family traditions of your own. Sad memories can be replaced with better memories. Make sure your children know why we celebrate Christmas. Those who claim to steer our culture will continue to attempt to blur the truth, but you can sharpen the image for your children. Make sure they know that Jesus the Messiah was born in Bethlehem, as the prophets foretold, and that he came to ransom many from their sins. Write that truth on their hearts, as my mother wrote it on our mirrors so many years ago.
Here is my hope for you this Advent season, regardless of your history and the memories that accompany it. I hope that you will focus your fixed attention on that child born in the manger, who is Emmanuel - God with us. Nothing has changed about him over the past two millennia, and nothing ever will. When you welcome him into your world, the past becomes the past forever. You are free to recall from it what you will, and free to discard what you wish. The future, however, remains forever bright. Go into Advent 2018 with that truth reverberating in your heart and mind.
Wishing all of you wonderful memories from this Advent season!
Grace and peace,