I love every aspect about this festive season of the year except for one thing – how fast it goes by.
And he we are on the first day of 2016 while the exciting hustle and bustle of another Christmas and New Year’s season will soon be in our rear view mirror.
But before looking forward to all this New Year has in store, I must reflect about my love for this Christmas season that will serve as my table-setter for a quality 2016.
I’m the person who starts playing his Christmas music as early as Nov. 1 and from December through New Year’s Day, I’m pretty much listening to nothing but those tunes of the season. I have no scientific data to support this claim, but I think I’ve heard every Christmas song ever performed or recorded.
I love Christmas movies too. I’m the reason TBS shows 24 straight hours of ‘A Christmas Story’ starting on Christmas Eve night each year! ‘Elf’ always kicks off the Christmas movie-watching season at our house sometime in mid-to-late November, and then it’s an all-you-can-watch buffet of Christmas movies through December for our family.
I enjoy Christmas gatherings to the fullest, particularly the plethora of parties our church groups put on throughout the month of December.
Come New Year’s Eve, our tradition with relatives on either side of our family is to stuff ourselves on the amazing Italian food of Maggiano’s – my all-time favorite restaurant!
I’m crazy about brainstorming with my wife the most creative spots each December morning for our family’s Elf on the Shelf – her name is Elfie – so my two daughters, Riley and Carson, are awed when they discover her next, intriguing move. The Elf on the Shelf is totally a parent’s best friend when it comes to waking up those cute little sleepyheads.
I love taking in Christmas shows and concerts with my family during this wonderful time of the year. In mid-December, we took in The Nutcracker by the Richmond Ballet at the Carpenter Theatre. It was an amazing performance in an equally amazing venue.
I love helping my wife decorate the inside of our home that’s transformed into a Christmas cottage this time of year. Yes, I’m a Renaissance man … Decorating the inside of the house is not just the wife’s job in our home!
And I could go on and on about the many more reasons I love this time of the year, which includes my two favorite beverages (also known as my liquid crack!): Starbucks’ Gingerbread Latte and Chick-fil-A’s Peppermint Chocolate Chip Milkshake.
But nothing gets my Christmas blood flowing like exterior illumination!
There’s no denying it – I’m addicted to Christmas lights. My neighbors on our street of Tall Grass Lane in La Plata can vouch for my obsession with turning my home into a glowing beacon of Christmas cheer each year.
I would say I need a support group for my love of exterior illumination, but I don’t want deliverance from it. If I can’t get cracking on hanging my lights the week before Thanksgiving, I get restless – like an elf without his sugar fix while building toys in the North Pole.
The meticulous, labor-of-love layout of Christmas lights across the outside of my house along with outlining the structure of our detached garage is a process I can’t wait to attack from the latter part of November through early December. I also wrap each of the five trees, from the trunks to the limbs, in my front, side and back yards.
Each Christmas season, I like to add something new to my outdoor lights display. This year, I used long strands of lights to line the outside of my long, sloped driveway leading into the garage to give our home its own airport runway look. That, of course, was for Santa to easily navigate his sleigh to our house come the night before Christmas.
I may not quite have “250 stands of lights, 100 individual bulbs per strand, for a grand total of 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights” the way Clark W. Griswold broke it down in ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,’ but I’d like to think I’m close.
There’s nothing like that moment when I plug in my lights for the first time – just like that scene in the movie when Griswold finally gets his lights to stay on (thanks to his wife’s help) when his dramatic last-ditch effort to plug the strands in results in sparks flying and the music of ‘Hallelujah’ playing emphatically.
Truth be told, I wish I could keep my Christmas lights up the whole year round. I recently made that confession to my wife as if she had no idea.
Ultimate Christmas Light
As much as Christmas lights provide that rush for me during this most wonderful time of the year, they pale in comparison to the light of Christ that’s available to us the whole year through.
The story of the first Christmas in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke never gets old to me. It’s chockfull of new revelations every time I study it.
God sent himself in the form of a baby boy name Jesus, born of a virgin young lady named Mary, estimated to be no older than 12-14 years old, through the power of the Holy Spirit as Luke 1:35 informs us. In her day, being pregnant before marriage was grounds for heavy public disdain and even death by stoning.
But Joseph, like Mary, possessed righteous character and never bolted their betrothed relationship despite this most unique circumstance. His faith in God was firmly rooted, obeying the angel’s instructions in a dream to take the impregnated Mary home to be his wife, which we read in Matthew 1:20.
Talk about big-time faith!
It’s not like there’s ever been another recorded case of a virgin pregnancy before Mary. And there hasn’t been a virgin pregnancy since, for that matter.
The couple’s grueling trek to Bethlehem was a precursor of what was to come as Mary was forced to give birth to the Messiah in a smelly, dirty animal stable that was anything but sanitary and comfortable.
The feeding trough Jesus was placed in as a newborn was hardly the cute, warm manger, lined with Downy-soft blankets, we see in many of our nativity scenes. Jesus was wrapped in abrasive burial cloths – which Mary brought along in case she did not make it through the birth procedure alive – while lying in the manger that was about the last place you’d want your infant lying in, let alone the Messiah.
But this was all part of God’s masterful design!
God came to a broken world through the lowliest of settings as the baby Jesus so He could meet us in our lowliest of settings in life.
In Matthew 1:21 during Joseph’s dream, we read that the angel of the Lord told him that Mary will “give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (NIV)
That is the essence of Christmas. This story is not just meant for the holiday season. It’s meant for you and me throughout every season of life, all 366 days of this 2016 leap year, especially when struggles, challenges, bad news, losses, loneliness and hurt come our way.
Luke 2:11 is the proclamation from the angel to the shepherds:
“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
The shepherds then hurried with excitement to Bethlehem to find Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in the manger. It was in that stable that the shepherds had church, complete with worship and thanksgiving to God for sending his son into the world.
That same joy is available to each of us – and we have the advantage, unlike the shepherds, of experiencing Jesus after he completed his time as savior on Earth by dying for all humanity before his resurrection on Easter.
Because Jesus is the savior, we can have that ‘Joy to the World’ experience all the time if we have that personal relationship he longs for with us.
It’s only then that we are filled the “light of the world” known as Jesus, as John 8:12 states, who keeps us from walking in darkness because we “have the light of life.”
It all started when Jesus became the first Christmas light, whose glow has never dulled while shining for all the world to see.
Jesus is the world’s master form of exterior illumination made for all of 2016 if he originates as your personal form of interior illumination.
Dallas Cogle is the REVIVE Youth Pastor and Ministries Director at Calvary Grace. He and his wife, Megan, have two daughters, Riley, 7, and Carson, 4. Dallas grew up in Calvary Grace from the age of 12 on as the oldest of two pastor’s kids. His father, Tom Cogle, is still the church’s lead pastor. Dallas made the career jump in Dec. of 2014 from sports journalist of nearly 16 years for Southern Maryland Newspapers to full-time staff pastor of Calvary Grace. Dallas led the youth ministry during most of his years as a sports journalist. He graduated from Evangel University with a degree in Broadcast-Communications in 1998 and was afforded different TV and radio opportunities during his time in journalism. Dallas’ passion is to see Calvary Grace evolve into a Southern Maryland community leader of connecting people of all ages to their God-given potential through a relationship with Christ.