In America, because Christmas and New Year’s Day are only a week apart, we call it “the holidays” and we keep the celebration going for at least two weeks or so. I love it!
Speaking of love, it seemed like that word was used quite a bit in regard to our 41st president, George H.W. Bush, as he was memorialized after his passing earlier this month. I was especially moved by the words that his son, George W. Bush. shared in his eulogy.
He spoke about how his father was so loving and kind and that, in fact, his last words on earth were about love. George W. had gotten the message that his dad’s health was fading fast and that he probably wouldn’t live much longer. So he got on the phone and called him. “I love you, dad,” he said. “You’ve been a wonderful father.” To which the 41st president of the United States replied, “I love you, too.”
How great is that! His dying words were words of love.
At Christmas time, we also talk a lot about love. And we sing about it, too. Love is mentioned in more Christmas carols than you might think. “Silent Night” calls Jesus “love’s pure light,” and “Away in the Manger” is a prayer for Jesus “to stay close by me forever and love me, I pray.”
Christina Rossi, back in 1885, wrote a poem titled “Love Came Down at Christmas.” It was later set to an old Irish melody. It is very simple but gets at the heart of what Christmas is all about. It goes like this: “Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine. Love was born at Christmas, star and angel gave the sign. Worship we the Godhead, love incarnate, love divine.”
It is true that there would be no Christmas without love. God loved the world so much that He was willing to send His very own Son to save it. To save us! If there ever was a person who showed us how to love, it is Jesus. He was full of compassion for every person he ever met.
I was always curious about where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe came from. It supposedly began wth the druids of northern Europe. They believed mistletoe had curative powers and could heal lots of things, including separation between people. So, when two enemies happened to meet under an oak tree with mistletoe hanging above them, they took it as a sign from God that they should drop their weapons and be reconciled. They would then set aside their animosities and embrace each other under the mistletoe.
When Christian missionaries moved into northern Europe, they saw this mistletoe custom as a perfect symbol for what happened at Christmas — Jesus Christ came into the world to save us and to bring peace, healing, forgiveness, love and reconciliation. And truly that is why Christ came — to show us God’s love and how to love one another.
I was struck the other day by a word that I had almost overlooked in the Christmas story. After the shepherds heard the good news of the angel and had gone to Bethlehem to meet the Savior born in a manger, it says in Luke 2:20 that the shepherds “returned.” In other words, as wonderful as their Christmas experience had been, they didn’t stay there. It was back to the real world. They had to move on. They had to return to their homes, their fields and their flocks.
And so, for us, Christmas is past. Soon it will be back to our routines: back to the office, back to school, back to normal. But I like to think that each year after experiencing the wonder and the joy of the birth of Christ, we return to these things a little different, changed. Like the shepherds, we have met Jesus. And when we approach him sincerely and with open hearts, he really does change us.
My prayer is that what is said of the shepherds can also be said of us: “The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.”
— The Rev. John Koedyker is pastor of congregational care at First Reformed Church, Grand Haven.