It was a simple question that came right out of the blue.
We were talking about presents when he asked me which Christmas was my favorite.
I stumbled for words.
Not because I didn't know what to say, but I just could not come up with the right word. This happens a lot when I am talking to someone. Part of where I am right now in this story of life after cancer treatment. I know what I want to say, but the words or thoughts I want to use go wandering somewhere between my brain and my lips, and I just cant find it.
But this was one of those times.
So I did not talk about the memory that has always been my favorite Christmas.
The one I always share about a time as a young wife with a new baby, and no money for a tree and a car that did not work and the first Christmas in a new country with no family around.
and... the wonder of our first snow, a new tune for Away in the Manger, being surrounded with new friends who also missed family...
That story will have to wait for another time.
Instead, I talked about a Christmas when I was also a child.
It is not hard to bring up the memories of my childhood Christmases. The whole experience of Christmas was something I treasured.
Every sensation imagineable!
The smell of cookies and the taste of fudge or divinity from the kitchen, the feel of soft tinsel and scratchy pine needles, smooth wrapping paper and snuggly blankets, the sound of carols and the sight of all the glittering ornaments, sparking lights and beautiful window displays in the stores downtown.
And most of all the magical feeling that something special was on the horizon!
Oh my the anticipation!
This anticipation that something wonderful was just on the horizon?
This was the reason for the question in the first place.
The anticipation had moved from something that should have been one of joyful expectation to one of worry.
Worry that a recently discovered item was not discovered in time to make it under the tree by Christmas morning.
Worry that Christmas morning would bring disappointment.
I know that kind of worry.
There was this one Christmas in particular.
For some reason, my parents had told me I was going to get a giraffe. It was the code name they had given to some new clothes they'd gotten me. But the code escaped me.
All I understood from that mysterious clue was that I was getting a giraffe.
Seriously? I had not asked for a giraffe. I had not even thought to ask for a giraffe.
The logistics of the whole thing was more than I could get my mind around.
Still, my little mind reasoned...it just might be fun to be the only person in our neighborhood to have a giraffe for a pet! Our very own personal tree trimmer!
What made matters worse, was that a commercial aired on television at the time of a giraffe being transported in a truck to some destination unnamed.
When I saw the commercial, I wondered if this was indeed, my giraffe?
If there was some truth to this story after all?
So I worried, about how I was going to take care of a giraffe, and then the disappointment I would feel if I did not get one.
When Christmas morning arrived, I opened each present wondering if there would be a clue as to where I would find my giraffe.
And my child-heart was disappointed.
I don't think I am the only one to have experienced that.
I think disappointment is often a side effect of Christmas. Disappointment in things and also in people. We get hopes up unrealistically, and then something or someone disappoints us.
It is not a new thing, this disappointment.
Just think back over 2,000 years ago.
To the first Christmas.
The nation of Israel felt abandoned. No word from their God for so long.
No angels, no prophets... nothing except a promise that God would send a deliverer.
Their hopes ran high.
But what they hoped for was not exactly what they got either.
They had hoped for a mighty King... a warrior to free them from oppression once and for all.
What they got was a baby. Helpless and fragile. Born into a family in poverty.
I'm sure if they had seen Him that night without the benefit of the angels announcement, or the guidance from the star, they would have wondered what God was doing...and they would have been disappointed.
In their own way of working out how God would send them a savior, a king seemed like a reasonable solution.
But, a baby?
It's easy to see how the logistics of this whole plan would have escaped them.
Did escape them.
Like when their king went out of His way to heal unclean lepers, and play with the children, and feed the hungry...
and wash their feet.
Like when He died.
Thankfully humanity was not the one in charge of the logistics for this event.
In fact, the logistics of most of our big events are not up to us, or we would never get sick or hurt or betrayed or lose loved ones.
No tears anymore.
We would never have planned for a cross.
But would have also missed the thrill of the empty tomb.
And the freedom of forgiveness.
If our hopes consist of what exactly comes under a tree, in a diagnosis, or in a kingly leader to deliver us from our troubles, then we have reason to be afraid of what lies ahead.
But our hopes lie in that baby.
Something that seems completely wacko to the way most of us in the world think...
but we have a God who does not think like most of the world.
And so we have this beautiful amazing treasure. A baby. The Son of God.
Who happens to be ...
God Himself with us.
God Himself the gift.
And therein lies the wonder. He is with us. Walking with us. Wrapping His arms around us in our pain, rejoicing with us in our joy.
While I was sad at first that I did not get a giraffe that Christmas, I did unexpectedly get something that has stuck with me all of these years.
I think that might have been the first Christmas that I knew a little of something called wonder.
The initial disappointment in the lack of a giraffe was soon replaced with relief.
A lot of relief.
And the memory?
has been a treasure.
One of my favorite Christmases.