You think it’s cold here? I just got back from the North Pole and …
Well, actually, it wasn’t that cold. And it wasn’t even north. It was more southwest. From Lubbock, Texas, to Brownfield, Texas. On the Polar Express train, complete with a conductor and hot chocolate and elves and Santa himself, and, most important, a two-and-a-half-year-old giggling granddaughter.
I don’t know what Brenley will one day remember about that train ride, but I’ll remember big brown eyes wide with delight. I hope it might become for her one of her earliest of a great many wonderful Christmas memories. It’s certainly added something precious to mine.
C. S. Lewis once put into words a wonderful truth about our lives and our faith. Early on, he said, it’s quite natural that a child can make no distinction between the religious meaning of holidays like Christmas and Easter and their merely “festal” character, by which he means Santa and Easter eggs, and all those many delightful traditions.
Lewis said he’d been told about a young boy who was heard on Easter morning “murmuring to himself” a poem he’d come up with on his own about “chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.” Lewis commented, “This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety.”
But he went on to observe that the time would surely come when the child would learn the difference between the “ritual” aspect of Easter and its “festal” aspect and then “chocolate eggs will no longer seem sacramental.”
And with that time will come a decision. He must “put one or the other first.” And here’s the important point: “If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.”
It’s true, you know. If we discard the deepest truths of our faith, it’s pretty hard to find much deep or lasting joy in Easter eggs and “Jingle Bells.”
But if our faith is in the Christ of Christmas and Easter, and if we really believe that God entered our world at Bethlehem and that death itself was no match for our risen Lord, then we live all year long in the wonderful glow of those deep truths. And those holidays become joyful holy days.
As long as we know what really is central to the seasons, well, then add in as much tinsel, as many lights, as many Christmas and Easter traditions as you like. Hunt the eggs, and take a ride on the Polar Express, and beam with delight as your little granddaughters fill up on hot chocolate and dance around the tree. You might occasionally run across someone toxically religious and afraid of experiencing too much joy. But our God has never been afraid of genuine joy. He is the Source of it.