The stale smell of apples reminds me of Christmas. When I was a kid, we’d go to Arkansas for Christmas, leaving as soon as Dad got home for work the Friday before Christmas. We’d eat dinner, open our presents, and clap and cheer… and then put them back under the tree and take off for Arkansas on a 24 hour drive where we stopped only for gas and nothing else. Food was packed in the car, and there was always this big bag full of apples. And by the time we got to Arkansas, the whole car had smelled like too-ripe apples, a smell that still gets to me. But that is part of the ghost of Christmas past for me.
Another ghost of Christmas past was the thumping sound that woke me up one Christmas Eve (actually 2:00 a.m. Christmas morning). I was too old for the Santa thing (or else it would have sounded like reindeer hooves). So I snuck up to the room over the garage and looked out the window to see what was going on, and I saw my Dad and Larry Campbell shooting basketball on the new goal they had just installed to surprise me Christmas morning. Well, I was surprised… I was surprised that Dad could shoot hoops! (I miss you, Larry!)
My most special Christmas memory was the birth of our first child at 8:20 a.m. on Christmas morning. I was up late Christmas Eve playing gin rummy with my sister Sonya, and I had just been dealt a hand only a couple of cards shy of gin when Lynn announced that it was time. I wanted to finish that hand… but everyone else seemed to think that was a bad idea, so off to the hospital we went. With snow falling outside (the last white Christmas we've had, I think) and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” playing on the radio (which Lynn was not enjoying), little Tressa came into our world to change it forever.
Christmas is different when you have a Christmas baby. Oh, it was a big, big deal the Christmas she was born… in a Catholic hospital! But later it was easy for her birthday to be overshadowed by Christmas itself. Everything is closed, so forget going out to a restaurant and getting “Happy Birthday” sung to you by the wait staff. We had to develop a series of special birthday rules to make sure Tressa birthday remained special-- fruit cake can’t be used as birthday cake, you never combine Christmas presents with birthday gifts (they must stay separate and apart), and under no circumstances can birthday presents be wrapped in Christmas paper! Christmas is different when you have a Christmas baby.
Well, there was little ordinary about the birth of Jesus. He was born of a virgin in a barn and laid in a manger. (When Jesus left a door open and someone said, “Hey, were you born in a barn?” He could say, “Why yes I was!”). And what other baby gets gold, frankincense and myrrh at their baby shower? And while new mothers usually send out birth announcements (what else have they to do), this time the Father did the birth announcement (Luke 2:8-14). Angels brought to the shepherds “good news of great joy.” The angels use one of the most familiar New Testament words—euaggelizo. What the angels literally said was, “I preach to you a gospel of great joy.” The birth of Jesus is gospel!
We don’t know when Jesus was born, and we aren’t told to make a bid deal about his birthday. But the fact of Jesus’ incarnation, that he really did come in the flesh, is indeed a big deal. It was more or less an accident of history that we started seeing December 25 as the birthday of Jesus. If somehow we decided to follow the Julian calendar and observe Christmas on January 7 (like some do), I don’t think Tressa would mind a bit. But the fact that Christ the Lord was born into our world was certainly no accident. I’m glad we have this special time of the year to remember that fact in a special way.