Christmas is my favourite time of the year. I love everything about it including the smallest details and traditions commonly associated with the season.
Throughout the last half of November my wife resisted my requests to put up the Christmas tree. She reminded me that it takes up too much space in the living room for my electric wheelchair to manoeuvre easily. She was right. The Christmas tree stayed in the basement until Dec. 1.
I had to settle with re-reading Charles Dickens' novel A Christmas Carol. First published in 1843, A Christmas Carol has remained a standard at Christmas for 168 years.
My latest reading of A Christmas Carol was not so much for the story (as enjoyable as it is); this time I am trying to get a sense of Christmas in the early 19th century.
Dickens had such a talent with description of the particulars of daily life. It's almost like travelling back in time to Victorian London of the 1840s. In my imagination I can hear the sounds of horses' hooves on the streets, children playing, frosty shop windows and gritty smells of the old city.
A spirit of Christmas excitement and goodwill is portrayed in A Christmas Carol that humanity still experiences in 2011. It illustrates for me that Christmas has given a bond to humanity throughout the generations. That bond is conveyed through the vast treasury of Christmas music and carols, art, literature and traditions.
CNS PHOTO | COURTESY CONCEPTION ABBEY
Painted by Benedictine monks in the late 1800's, the mural of baby Jesus depicts the good news of the Saviours birth.
The most meaningful Christmas traditions should point to Christ's birth, rather than merely generating warm fuzzy feelings associated with gift giving, elves, decorated trees and a fat little man in a red suit.
Christ's birth carries the same timeless hope across the centuries. Millions of Christians have experienced that hope as they contemplated the incarnation and placed their faith in Jesus Christ. God became man. Immanuel - God with us, as mentioned in the first chapter of Matthew's Gospel and alluded to at the end of Matthew when the risen Christ assured his followers, "I am with you always, until the end of the age."
Christmas reminds me of that promise. The reality of that promise is alive within all who have met the risen Christ and place their faith and hope in him. Christ is with us. The road from Bethlehem to Calvary can lead humanity to the sublime love of Christ's sacrificial act on the cross and provides the means for reconciliation of sinful humanity back to God.
A traditional English Christmas carol mentioned in Dickens' novel is God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen which dates to the 15th century. It carries the beloved lyrics:
God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.
The words "rest" and "merry" are prominent in the lyrics. For years I thought the word "rest" meant, well, to rest or relax but recently I discovered that the word carried different meanings in the Middle Ages. In Ace Collins' book 25 Days, 26 Ways To Make This Your Best Christmastime Ever, he explained that during the 15th century the word "rest" could also mean "make" or "keep."
Collins explained "Thus, when God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen was written, the composer's charge was for listeners to let God make a change in their hearts and minds about the good news found in Christ's birth and life." The word "merry" means happy today but in the Middle Ages it also meant mighty.
Again Collins explained: "Thus when taken in context, the new meaning of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen becomes "God keep you mighty, gentlemen.'"
Perhaps the person who penned this traditional English carol 700 years ago had a clearer grasp of the purpose of Christmas observance than many 21st century Christians. Yes, we should do acts of generosity to our fellow man, celebrate the birth of Jesus, but as the lyrics remind us "Christ, our Saviour was born on Christmas Day, to save us all from Satan's power when we were gone astray."
Let us commit ourselves to goodwill between ourselves and others, meditate upon our Lord's birth and expectation of Christ's return, and use Advent to recommit ourselves to the good news of Christ's birth, life, death and resurrection, and to be mighty in our faith and loving evangelism. Remember the words of Tiny Tim, "God bless us, every one!"