A Slice Of Life To Go is an online Christian blog written by Todd Thompson. It encourages people to see the beauty in ordinary moments and to know God’s unconditional, unfailing love in everyday life.

The Week Before Christmas

December 19th, 2005

Annie and Emma unbuckled their seat belts and tried to be the first to sit next to me. It was time for our “pre-preschool” parking lot conversation. We had been talking about Christmas on the drive over and they were offering some final thoughts. Annie squeezed her tush between the seats, sat down and said, “Cwis’mas is about celebwating family. It’s Jesus’ birthday.” She paused for a second and then said with matter-of-fact confidence, “Daddy, for some people it’s not Cwis’mas. It’s Happy Monica.”

Driving away I was glad I took five minutes to listen to my kids. I’d hate to miss Annie’s insight on Happy Monica. My Jewish friends will love hearing that one.

Annie and Emma are still learning about Christmas. They’re happily absorbing the entire experience. From participating in their church Christmas program, to reading books about Jesus’ birth, to watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on TV. They have daily reminded me that they haven’t had the opportunity to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they want. We’re going to Santa’s Village tonight so the old guy can put their minds at ease.

Christmas is a wonderful mix of truth and tradition. Jesus birthday is the reason for the season. But there really was a St. Nicholas, too. The Grinch and Frosty the Snowman are fictional characters but a real part of our childhood memories. We read about the legend of the candy cane, sing about Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, wonder why we put gifts in stockings and wonder why the other eleven months of the year we call them socks.

It’s the week family traditions are ramping up and rolling out. The “this is the food we cook on Christmas Eve” conversations are starting to happen. We look forward to the olfactory overload of gingerbread, pine scent from the tree, hot cider, smoke from burning logs in the fireplace and fresh baked cookies. Though I won’t be there to see it, I’m sure my Mom will be making oyster stew and chili that night. And some diehard Scandinavian traditionalists in my hometown will make lutefisk. My cousins Eric and Neil, who as children were unwilling participants of this holiday tradition, once described lutefisk as “bad tasting Styrofoam”. That’s not far off. It’s a bland, smelly, gelatinous fish that, in my way of thinking, contributed to a million Swedish immigrants getting on a boat and coming to America in the late 1800’s. There had to be better food over here.

Though perhaps we don’t notice it, over the years we’ve mixed truth and tradition within the Christmas account. We know Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem. For some reason we assume it was on a donkey, though the Bible doesn’t say. They could have walked. Since there was no room in the inn, someone had to tell them that. Who else but the innkeeper, though the Bible never mentions one. It’s a good bet that animals were present at Jesus’ birth, especially since Jesus was laid in a feeding trough after He was born. Maybe some sheep or donkeys or a camel. We don’t know for sure because the Bible doesn’t talk about any animals, either.

The Bible doesn’t say how many wise men there were but every regulation nativity set has three. Probably because three gifts are mentioned. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. That assumes that each guy brought one gift. Who knows? Maybe there were five wise men, one bought all the gifts and the other four just signed their name on the card? And don’t anyone go putting the wise men back in the box, but there’s a good chance they weren’t anywhere near the site of Jesus’ birth. It’s possible they didn’t find Him until up to two years later. Matthew 2:11 says the wise men found Jesus in a house, not a manger.

Whatever the configuration of your nativity set, there’s one piece common to all of them. The baby in the manger. That little baby became the central figure in human history. More than that, He came that you and I might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Jesus came to offer Himself as the solution to a problematic truth; the truth that you and I are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace. Humanity was in need of some good news. Or as the angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid! For I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all people. Unto you this day in the city of David is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!”

Whether camels and donkeys and wise men were there or not, what matters is that the baby in the manger was there. Jesus is the reason for the season. That’s something to think about while we’re opening our presents, baking our cookies and (gag) eating our Lutefisk. Here’s hoping your week before Christmas is full of the truth and traditions that remind us of God’s gift to the world.

“The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all people. To you this day in the city of David is born a Savior which is Christ the Lord! And this will be a sign to you; you will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:10-12