It’s early Christmas morning and I’m sitting in my old bedroom at my parents’ house, looking out over the snow that has fallen on Kansas over the past few days. Snow in Kansas isn’t unusual. It’s a fact of winter life Kansans are used to, whether it comes in big, fat, wet flakes that every kid knows makes the best snowballs, or the dry, powdery, disappointing kind that results in neither good snowballs nor school closings.
As I look out the window this morning, it’s the same. It’s the same snow that I’ve looked at most every year since I was born, and the same snow I was cursing for making visibility almost nil during the drive in on Saturday night. It’s a white blanket, frozen rain, putting the trees and plants to sleep and sending squirrels and birds on a frenzied hunt for food. It’s the same.
Then I remember hearing as a child that every flake is different. I had trouble wrapping my head around that – with so many flakes in one snowfall, it seemed impossible to me that there wasn’t some duplication somewhere. But everything I heard and read assured me it was true: every flake is unique. I watch the rising sun slowing turning up the lights on the frozen drifts, and I realize it isn’t the same. The snow is not the same. The flakes are different from each other, and different from every flake I’ve watched and played in since I was a little girl. The morning is not the same. The day is not the same. Christmas is not the same.
I think Christians too often take Christmas for granted. Even if we manage to look beyond the buy-oriented messaging the capitalist machine starts tapping into our brains even before Thanksgiving, even if we keep our focus on the religious aspect of the reason we celebrate, we still know what’s coming: Advent, the tree, the candles, the tabletop manger scene, the gifts, the stockings, the food, the Christmas story out of Luke that most of us probably know by heart. We participate in all of it. We enjoy it. It’s a part of our faith, our heritage, our community.
But I, for one, have been guilty of thinking of Christmas as always being the same. I know it so well. The routines, the smells, the colors, the lights, the songs… there is a comfort in their familiarity and I would never try to shake that up, for myself or anyone else. But if we look a little beyond the familiar, Christmas is never the same, is it?
This is my immediate family’s first Christmas without Dad. Mom hung his stocking up with everyone else’s, we talk about him, laugh over some memories, but his absence is palpable. Christmas isn’t the same for us. A few miles away, my extended family is grieving as my oldest cousin’s 23-year-old son is slowly succumbing to cancer. All around me, friends and family are struggling with illness, job loss, divorce. Christmas isn’t the same for them.
Things shift and change all year long. Birth and death, happiness and tears follow us with every new page on the calendar, so how can we ever think of Christmas as being the same old thing? Like the millions of different flakes that make the snow outside my window look the same as it always has, all we’ve been through this year, every spiritual step we’ve taken, every blessing, every stumble, has brought us to this Christmas. Spiritual people are always looking for the light in the darkness, the hope in the storm. If we let Christmas be that for us, it will never be the same old thing.