Manger, crown of thorns, and Bible
December 26, 2023

Remembering the Gift: a Christmastime meditation

Whether or not you followed Reformed Worship’s devotionals during Advent, you may find this meditation a valuable reminder to us of how we should hold Christmas in our minds and hearts, even once the joyful morning has passed.

I was tired of lying to my dental hygienist.

Every six months, I knew it was coming: “Are you flossing?” I wouldn’t say “yes,” as that felt like an outright lie. But my responses certainly weren’t truthful. Sometimes. As much as I can. I’m trying to.

At some point, it started bothering me. And I started thinking about the power of habits and our power (or lack of) to change. I was determined to start flossing. A simple thing, right? Hardly. Developing a good habit can be just as difficult as casting off a bad one. But I found the eventual key to success. I thought if I left the floss on the bathroom counter where I could see it every day, I would remember to use it. So I did. And I did see it. Every day. But I didn’t always use it. I’ll do it later. I’m too tired. Is that my phone ringing? I discovered this wasn’t just a memory issue; it was a test of my will. But after a few weeks, I developed enough of an imperfect habit to find that my will was becoming engaged too. Then it started to feel like a true habit. And then, I actually wanted to do it. When I didn’t floss, I felt like something was missing. I had started to feel its benefit.

I trust sharing about good dental health isn’t so strange as we begin to think about the New Year. Flossing is a great choice if you’re looking for a relatively low-bar resolution. But I want to keep our thoughts on Christmas, as we are still in the liturgical season of Christmas. During Advent the devotional series asked how you would receive the Gift. The question now is, “How will you remember it?”

Memory is a strange and complex thing. Why can I remember the old phone numbers of all my childhood friends, but I can’t recall where I left my keys? Why can some people recite thousands of digits of pi (current Guinness record is 70,000, though it is reported that someone once recited 100,000) while some of us struggle to memorize a short poem? Why do age, injury, and illness rob so many people of the most basic functions of memory, even sometimes the recognition of loved ones?

Memory is limited because human beings are limited. I don’t mean in the deeper theological sense, though I’m sure in a sin-free world, we’d never lose our keys. I hope we can give ourselves some grace and acknowledge that forgetfulness isn’t always a spiritual failure. It just happens. And even when it is a spiritual failure, there is—praise God—still grace.

One simple way to remember the Gift? Don’t be in a rush to get all the Christmas things back into storage. Leave a decoration out where you can see it, keep reading Advent/Christmas devotionals even as the liturgical year moves forward (there are many great ones), keep some Christmas music on your playlist. While “Jingle Bells” might get very old in July, I guarantee the lyrics of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” will bless you any day you hear them. And “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” can remind us that while we have welcomed the Christ child, we await Christ’s return in glory.

Another way to remember the Gift? Keep it close to your heart by hiding God’s word in your heart (Psalm 119:11). The gift of Christmas isn’t limited to the Matthew 1 and Luke 2 passages. You can see it everywhere, how it unfolds from “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1) to its ultimate fulfillment:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1–5)

I love reading this passage at the start of a new year, not as inspiration for making a resolution or seeking to be a “better” person, even though there are plenty of resolutions I can and should make. A return to regular flossing, for one. (Confession: I fall out of the habit every time I travel.) No, this passage takes me way beyond mere resolution. It cements in my mind (my spirit, even) the gift of Christmas and the newness of life that is ours through Jesus. It’s my New Year’s re-alignment. New opportunities and new challenges lie ahead. Some I know of already. Some will fly at me out of nowhere. They may be welcome or very much unwelcome. But whatever they are, I know where the road leads. I am being made new.

But because concrete acts are what help us remember and what allows a re-alignment to take hold, I might just go ahead and make a resolution. First, I’m going to buy a second roll of floss to take with me on trips this year. That way, one can always stay on the bathroom counter. It will serve as a helpful metaphor as much as a healthy habit. But more importantly, I’m going to take the Revelation imperative, “Write this down,” personally and literally. Every day from now until Ash Wednesday, I’m going to write—or going to try to write—the phrase, “Behold, I am making all things new,” in a journal. But even if I forget to write it one day, or even if I manage to lose the entire journal, I know it’s the imperfect work of the willing heart that is at the heart of remembering the Gift.

I also know that remembering the Gift doesn’t mean we camp out in Bethlehem forever, so to speak. Jesus doesn’t stay in the manger. His road leads on. And just as we’ve been waiting for him during Advent, he’s now waiting for us to walk that road with him. To follow him as he lives among us, teaching and healing and pointing us to see the true purpose of the Gift.

How will we remember the Gift?

Hopefully by responding every day, Here I am, Lord. Ready to walk with you.

Rebecca Tellinghuisen works at Trinitas Classical School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she serves as a Latin teacher, communications assistant, and resident readers theater scriptwriter, having developed a love for turning classic works of children’s literature into twenty-minute plays. She also writes prayers and meditations for her church, Fifth Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.