Christmas Anticipation

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Nativity scene

V.A. Holding
© 12/9/2023

Having crossed oceans, time zones, and cultural boundaries several times, I have accumulated stories, traditions, and memories that have changed my perspectives on Christmas over the years. Many faces come to mind; some for a brief moment, but most for a very long time. Along with the faces is a nostalgia that seems to come in cycles – changing but staying the same. Perhaps this is a dimension to the expression, “All hearts come home for Christmas.” For someone who has moved countless times, I never equated home to a geographical place. My heart, too, has learned to dwell not in a physical abode but in an almost ethereal state of anticipation, of looking forward. Christmas, to me, is that place of anticipation.

Even as a young child, I understood the value of bribery to patience; but patience is no match for Christmas, I must admit. Nothing ever distracted me from school except the month of December, which I met with the same jubilance as the beginning of another school year. I would like to think that, “Surely I have behaved myself and quieted myself as a child“ (Ps.131:2a), but then again, I do like to come back to childhood at Christmas. Thoughts of festivities were too much to bear in my dreams and imagination: setting up the nativity scene; decorating a tree with red, white, and green paper chain; exchanging gifts in Sunday school; and caroling with my family.

Although the least musical among vocalists and instrumentalists, I looked forward to singing carols from house to house. I’m not sure if it was the ritual itself, but what I remember most are my mother’s strong first soprano notes, my brother’s booming tenor voice, my aunt’s accordion accompaniment, and my uncle’s faint guitar. Never mind the money we would collect at the end of the night, which, to a very young child’s estimation, didn’t really amount to great importance. It was enough that my anticipation had been justified by singing to others with my family.

Visiting with relatives at Christmas, along with showing off my new Christmas outfit, was another promised hope. Still vivid in my memory is the act of receiving each elder’s blessing as we first entered their homes. Bending over, we would take their hand and guide it to touch our foreheads. Filipinos call this tradition mano (muh-noh). Having shown deep respect for our elders and, as a result, to each other, the visit commences. Dinner, the long-awaited moment, never came soon enough. Not that I was hungry for what has been cooking all day, but it was that yearly treat for which I would save my appetite – apples. Since apples were imported to the Philippines, they came as precious commodities to those who could afford them. I still remember my father cutting one extra apple into six equal slices in order to share with the neighbor’s children. For both the giver and the receiver, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). With a whole apple to myself, my anticipation would again come to pass.

As I got older, school choir performances, church Christmas plays, and door-to-door gospel caroling were added to my schedule. After I finally accepted Christ as my Savior at fourteen, my anticipation for Christmas heightened. I started to place Baby Jesus in the wooden trough with an indescribable care lest I harm his body before the appointed time. I started to see Christ in the carols we sang, almost transporting me to the world of angels that sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). I started to comprehend my family’s devotion to God and to each other just as Joseph, Mary, and perhaps a few relatives journeyed together to Bethlehem at the most inconvenient time. I started to value the bending of one’s heart as a sign of humility, not just to my elders but to everyone else. I started to become more sensitive to needs all around me, which, in a third world country, are much more than my father’s six slices of apples could meet.

My anticipation continues to grow, but not horizontally. Christmas had come home to me just as it did to the aged Anna who looked for redemption, and to the devout Simeon who was content to die: “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation” (Luke 2:30). Now I understand: my place of anticipation has become a Person. It was to Him that the angels sang their carols. It is in His company that the redeemed bend their knees in reverent awe, and where the fellowship commences with feasting at His table. At His banqueting table both rich and poor meet together (Prov.22:2a); not one is too proud or too timid to ask, “Keep me as the apple of the eye” (Ps.17:8a). It is through Him that hearts come home both for Christmas and to Christmas; revisiting that which was yet anticipating that which is to come. It is with Him, the Unchanging One, that the cycle of change resides – even the seasons of my life that by and by will have come full circle in His grand design. It is in Immanuel, “God is with us,” that my anticipation was born. It is Jesus Christ Himself Who will put an exclamation to all my expectations.

Ah! Christmas, I bid you, “Welcome!”

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