The year that Shane and I got married, I didn't have any Christmas decorations. In the course of buying ornaments and tinsel and garland, I found a tiny white porcelain nativity at Deseret Book. When I say tiny, I mean it. It stands maybe 3 inches tall and probably that wide. It has a stable with 3 figures underneath: a man, a woman, and a cradle with the shape of a baby. It was the only representation of the real meaning of Christmas I had for for the first 3 Christmasses of my married life. But I loved that little nativity and looked forward to getting it out each year.
In a kind of related way, I learned a little about myself in church yesterday. The lesson was based on the premise that there are 4 levels of Christmas. The first is the Santa level. The brightly wrapped presents, ribbons, tinsel, reindeer, and excitement that all go with Santa are in this level. I guess it is the most outward sign of Christmas (but it's still important in my book!! Trees and Christmas lights are highly rated around my house.)
Second is the social aspect of Christmas. This is where we enjoy the parties, the family get-togethers, the work socials that are so abundant. (So far, so good in my book. I love each part of this little 4 part premise.) I love those gatherings of friends and family. They are something I look forward to all year long. It wouldn't be Christmas without them.
The third part is where Baby Jesus (and my little white nativity) come in. We remember the stable that the Baby Jesus was born in, the wise men who came from afar, the shepherds who ran to meet him under the star. This is the level that I find myself in most often at Christmas. You see, I don't hang a lot of church-related stuff around my house. That is, until Christmas. I made it a goal this year to have as many of the nativities I've added to my collection as possible in each room. I have one on a bookcase, on on the mantel, another in the spot in my kitchen window. I have a table with a whole nativity set on it (all battered from my kids playing with it from year to year; Thomas particularly loved the donkey the year he was 1), and my Playmobile nativity on a table next to the couch. (Which, by the way is awesome for kids to play with. My only rule is they have to keep everything on the table. Kids love it and usually keep the rule. The only cause for alarm this year has been when Thomas introduced a Transformer into the game which was killing the baby. I found myself yelling from the kitchen, "We do not kill the baby Jesus with Transformers!" It was awesome - who knew I would ever get to utter that sentence??)
So, Baby Jesus is my level of Christmas. The fourth level - the adult Christ, who performs the role as savior - is still above me. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about loving Jesus, whatever his age may be. But my Christmas maturity level isn't there yet. I'm still too enraptured with the infant that came into a stable. I can relate to little babies who come into our lives, innocent and sweet and wrapped in soft things. I understand the concern of a new mother; I feel for Mary and the circumstances in which she gave birth. I sympathize with Joseph, finding himself with such an awesome responsibility to be the earthly father of the son of God. These things I understand and relate to more than the things that come later. Although I'm grateful for those, too.
We sang a song yesterday that I had never heard but was so sweet and made me cry. It is called When Joseph went to Bethlehem. The words go like this:
When Joseph went to Bethlehem
I think he took great care
To place his tools and close his shop
And leave no shavings there.
He urged the donkey forward,
Then, with Mary on its back,
And carried bread and goat cheese
In a little linen sack.
I think there at the busy inn
That he was meek and mild
And awed to be the guardian
Of Mary's sacred Child.
Perhaps all through the chilly hours
He smoothed the swaddling bands,
And Jesus felt the quiet strength of
Joseph's gentle hands.
And close beside the manger bed
He dimmed the lantern's light,
And held the little Jesus close upon
That holy night.
So I'm alright with being a Christmas level 3. It means I've made some progress, but still have something to work towards. Truly, though, I am grateful for all the levels. Because to have Christmas without any of them would be unimaginable. To not have decorations, even if they are as hodge-podge and rag-tag as mine, would take out some of the warmth of the season. To not give presents to my loved ones, however simple, would make me feel empty. To not have my family and friends around to spend time with would be lonely. To not see the representation of the nativity would be heartbreaking. And it is impossible for me not to acknowledge the person that Jesus became.
So what level of Christmas is essential for you? Is there one aspect that makes it all come together?