I've been thinking about Christmas today.
"What??" I know you are saying. (Because I can read your mind... it's a talent we bloggers have.) "What??" your mind says again, then, "But Michael, you nitwit, today is New Year's Eve! Not Christmas!"
Well, to be honest, I actually started thinking about Christmas yesterday. Better?
[readers sit in stunned silence]
I suppose I should explain. When people think of Christmas, what do they think of? Gifts, obviously. Santa, Rudolph, Christmas trees, shopping. "The Little Drummer Boy" or "Jingle Bells". It's A Wonderful Life and Miracle On 34th Street. And as Christians, we might also add things like putting up manger scenes and hearing Linus reciting from Luke chapter 2 to that list.
There's another thing that people think of when they think of an ideal Christmas, though. Consider the Cratchits from A Christmas Carol. They had next to nothing, but they had one thing that Scrooge did not. Scrooge's nephew Fred was more well-off than the Cratchits, but he also had this thing that Scrooge lacked. The thing I'm talking about is family. When people think of their idealized Christmas, they think of spending quality time with family.
I realize that in a lot of families, time with family is less than pleasant. Not everybody gets along with all of their family members, and in some cases, spending time with family can be a very negative experience. But if you eliminate those blips from your Christmas experience, the chance to spend time with people you are genuinely close to is one of the best parts of Christmas.
So, yesterday was Sunday, and like most Sundays, I spent a few hours in the morning at my church. At our church we treat "shake hands with someone around you" as a pretty important part of the service; I'm very introverted by nature and awkward in social situations, but I make the effort to come out of my shell and shake some hands, smile at people, and say some good mornings at those times. Why do I do that? Because it's important. Because church is not a concert followed by a lecture. Church is spending time with other sons and daughters of the Most High God.
Church is family.
Do you see where I'm going with this? By no means am I implying that we should neglect our biological families in favor of our church families, but I think that church family is family in a very special way.
Want to experience the joyfulness of Christmas every week? Show up at a church full of people who treat each other like family. Like family that they enjoy, I mean. Shake someone's hand, give them a smile and maybe a hug if you are so inclined. Celebrate the gift of Christ with them. And if Weird Uncle Mel shows up, well, shake his hand too.
Because family time is the most Christmassey time of all!