I’ve always loved listening to Christmas music. There’s nothing like a classic rendition of The First Noel or Adeste Fidelis sung by some great choir to stir up all the warm feelings I associate with this time of year.
Even though God or Jesus was never part of the equation, my family was always big on Christmas being a time of year for generosity, forgiveness, thankfulness and hope. We would pick up a couple extra coats at Wal Mart to give to children in need, more readily forgive each other for little transgressions, and take a moment to appreciate all that we had. And no matter how bleak things were or how many difficulties we faced, we always saw Christmas as a time to set aside our worries, to just find joy in simple things like having a fire roaring in the fireplace, decorating the Christmas tree or making cookies for friends and family. There were a few years in my life that were pretty dismal, where some pretty traumatic stuff happened, and I remember Christmastime being one of the few bright spots in my life. It was a nice, pleasant time of year.
This year, it’s different.
Of course I always knew that Christmas was based on the birth of the founder of the Christian religion but I thought, even as a young child, that that was an antiquated idea that few people took seriously anymore. I didn’t think that anybody honestly believed all that God and Jesus stuff, except for maybe the ignorant or the self-deluded. I never even took a moment to wonder how vastly much more glorious this season would seem if the events that supposedly took place were actually true, because I was so certain they weren’t.
As I’ve chronicled on this site, the path to belief was not a simple one for me. It has been a mostly dry endeavor, filled with doubts and uncertainty, with frustration and sometimes despair. I still don’t know what it’s like to have a childlike trust in God, and probably never will. I don’t have a “personal relationship” with Jesus. But, by the grace of God, I believe. I set out to follow the truth wherever it led me, factoring in all data from human experience in addition to that which can be proven in a lab or a mathematical equation, and it led me to Christianity.
I have examined my decision and the path that led me here as objectively as I possibly can. I feel certain that I am not fooling myself, that the profound proof I have seen is not from my imagination alone. If nothing else, I could never come up with anything that good. I could never create within myself the deep love and peace I have experienced. But, if it is just all in my head, then it’s come from some deep, previously unknown facet of my personality, and it’s a pretty serious psychosis that I’ll probably never be capable of realizing.
Anyway, a couple Fridays ago, I was getting the house ready for a Christmas party and turned on some Christmas music, the same tunes I enjoy hearing every year. As the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s stunning rendition of The First Noel floated through the kitchen, I was almost stopped in my tracks. I realized, for the first time, what Christmas really is. The glorious melody that recounts the tale of shepherds gazing at a star on a cold winter’s night, of travelers from a distant land offering gifts upon bent knee to a newborn child, isn’t just beautiful, but an expression of the most beautiful thing that ever happened.
The truth of Christianity almost makes the beauty of Christmas almost too much to absorb. “Kindness, ” “generosity, ” “joy, ” “love” — all the things that were always part of this wonderful season — are no longer just fleeting nothings, pleasant little chemical reactions in the human brain. They’re real. They have a Source, and I have found him (or, rather, he has found me). As I stood motionless that Friday, stopped in my tracks with a tin of Christmas cookies, tears welled in my eyes and my throat got tight. Of course they’re real, I thought. Of course. In a way, I knew it all along.
As the choir reached the crescendo, the joy in their voices pouring forth like a raging waterfall, singing this ancient carol that a thousand voices have sung before, I realized that this is really my first Christmas. What I thought was a few weeks of beauty and hope and joy, is a celebration of Beauty and Hope and Joy itself.
I’ve said countless holiday pleasantries in my life — “Merry Christmas, ” “Happy Holidays, ” etc. But this year, from the very bottom of my heart, I sincerely wish every single one of the commenters and readers of this site a merry, merry Christmas.