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The Final Gift of Christmas

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“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

—Helen Keller

Christmas – a shining star – a break from the tedious schedules we find ourselves in.

For a moment in time, we escaped the drudgery, pressures, anxiety, and uncertainties.

For a moment in time, we humbly knelt before the Christ Child whose birthday we celebrate.

For a moment in time, we laid down our heavy burdens of doubt and fear and unanswered questions.

And now Christmas is over. The torn wrappings are stuffed in bags ready for the garbage pickup Bows are packed away to use again next year.

Families have returned home, and we collapse in an easy chair, take a deep sigh, and try to relax.

We are left with an afterglow of loving moments, age-old songs that brought joy to our hearts and rituals that filled our hearts with special remembrances. An afterglow that brings the hope that life doesn’t have to return to the way it was before – the same grind, same routines, same stresses. It is an afterglow that maintains the magical remembrance of those extraordinary Christmas moments.

As I pick up the gifts I was given – love, joy, and peace – I find another one waiting for me; that final gift of Christmas: Hope.

Hope: the glow that began at Christmas and extends beyond

Hope takes those early tentacles of despair and hopelessness and reminds us there is a tomorrow and gives us the willpower to try one more time, or two or three or how many more it takes to reach our goals.

Hope faces the uncertainty of tomorrow and replaces it with an optimism that things will improve.

Hope allows me to stop running in circles, but to identify the problems I face and start looking for realistic, long-term solutions.

Hope reaches out and asks God to give us the strength and courage we need to keep going.

I love the Christmas season – the smell of burning candles and pine boughs, Christmas cards that continue to connect me with old friends, and the music that fills all the tattered and worn places of my heart and spirit. I love the afterglow when family and friends have returned home after a special day of celebration.

It is several days after Christmas, and I look again at the Christmas cards I received – cards whose message proclaims our desire for peace and hope. Yet, as it has for centuries, the world remains in rebellion, revolt, and war. Peace. Hope. Are these things truly possible?

Each year, we are allowed to pause and reflect on what Christmas means to us. For Christmas isn’t just about pretty bows, celestial music, and lights that decorate trees and houses; it is about a gift given to us by God, a gift that involved sacrifice and love.

Who can fathom such a God who loves us so much that He would be willing to send His Son to die for us?

As we gather the wrapping paper strewn about and put away our presents, what will we do with the gift God has given us?

Will we put it on a shelf somewhere with other gifts we don’t know what to do with? Or will we choose to continue to unwrap its many layers throughout the year?

We look forward to Christmas because the season symbolizes peace, hope, love, and joy. Yet even when we begrudgingly put aside our differences, resentments, and hurts so we can enjoy the holiday, we quickly pick them up again right after Christmas and life continues as usual.

But the peace and hope we long for don’t begin with negotiations to end wars on foreign fronts. It isn’t found in governments that write peace treaties. It is found in the gift God gave us, which can transform hearts and lives.

The choice is ours. Do we use the gift given to us or discard it?

We have romanticized the spirit and intent of Christmas to where it makes for good entertainment in Hollywood movies. The message may give us pause for a second of sentimentality about a way of life that might be different. But then we rethink it as being idealistic and impossible to achieve. We think, “Who would consider a love-filled life as anything other than Pollyanna? I would be laughed out of my neighborhood.”

Can we take those priceless moments of joy, laughter and contentment and apply them throughout the coming year?

Can we find ways to love one another, forgive, build bridges of communication, and resolve conflicts?

Are we willing to try?

If so, the afterglow of Christmas will continue to grow and enrich our lives.

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