Dear Christmases Past,

I remember you fondly and miss you dearly. I remember the time when we all drove to Lockeport to spend Christmas at Nanny and Grampy’s house (Grampy hadn’t yet been renamed “Bucky” by Jordan, who wouldn’t come along for another few years). I remember the Mogul Monster snowboard and the GT Sno-Racers that were propped around the room to greet the oldest grandchildren. I remember the visits back and forth from Lockeport to Shelburne, to Granny’s apartment in Sandy Point and the Roseway Hospital, where our newest-born cousin was being looked after for a case of croup. My memories tend to be a mixture of what was captured by our family’s new camcorder and the things that were particular to me (my Christmas presents: a Huey Lewis and the News cassette, a fancy zipper binder that came with a calculator in the front cover). But the memories of being in each other’s space, of hugs freely and carelessly given, of sitting across from one another at dining room tables without masks on—those are lovely recollections now. I can almost feel them.

I remember so many Christmas Eve services, singing in sanctuaries crammed close with excited people—at Forest Hills, Lake Echo, McAdam, and, yes, even here in Fredericton not too long ago. The lovely strains of shared music-making (“O Holy Night” one Christmas in McAdam with Eddie and Jenny and Miranda and David and Dee just popped into my mind), the impressive sight of the candle flames making their way from the front of the church to the back, filling our darkened space with light-filled hope and love as we sang “Silent Night,” the taste of hot apple cider on the church’s doorstep…

I remember the house-to-house visits. I remember our neighbour Andrew popping over every Christmas morning wearing new Christmas clothes and eager to see what had arrived at our house, while wishing us all a heartfelt Merry Christmas. I remember the appearance of “Santa Claus” in our neighbours’ living room, and the way we all waited for him once we noticed that someone had managed to mysteriously disappear from our visit a few minutes before…

Ah, dear Christmases past, I remember you and miss you. You’ve been replaced by travel restrictions and outlawed singing. And don’t get me started on the ruined meanings of the words “bubble” and “steady.”

But even though you’re gone, even though I’m not sure that the likes of you will return anytime soon, the truth is that the things I remember and miss are things that, every year, many around us never had, whether because of money shortages or relationships in disarray.

And the bigger truth is that the root cause of all those celebrations in the past hasn’t been diminished at all. This remains a world that has been redeemed by God. It’s a broken world, but it’s been reclaimed in Christ for good purposes. This remains a world in which it’s abundantly true that “God is with us.” Maybe the things we’ve lost have actually sometimes in the past made us lose sight of that. Perhaps God in his mercy will help us to know that he doesn’t disappear at the closing of borders or the order to self-isolate.

If Jesus can be said to pay anything other than equal attention to everyone, then Jesus has probably always paid more attention at Christmas to those who are lonely than those who are surrounded by family, to those who are hungry than those who are full because they’ve had three Christmas dinners as they travel from family gathering to family gathering.

When we are empty, then we are full in Christ. When we miss something, when we long for something, our heart is resonating with God’s heart. O, dear Christmases past, for the past couple of years now I have known that things aren’t completely okay yet. But I’ve also known that Jesus is the gift that we have in an hour of December darkness as well as in the early morning light of summer.

Would I like it if Christmases future someday looked a little more like you Christmases past? Well, I wouldn’t object to it. But now I’m starting to know that I’ll never be satisfied in looking back to a golden age and wishing I could return. We won’t find our way back to Eden. But those wonderful words from Scripture, “new creation,” have never sounded more like what I really want. Those promises of a world made new, even after the disaster—a world indwelt so fully by God that he is all the daylight that we’ll ever need—that’s what I’m looking for now.

Thanks for the memories. They’re awesome. If you come around again, I will welcome you with a huge smile. But I think this time I’ll be able to remember that you aren’t heaven.

For that I’m looking to Jesus.

Sincerely, your old friend,