At the end of the longest, most painful year, who doesn’t need the longest, most meaningful Christmas?
That’s what I’m thinking when we drag out the tree early: In a year that can’t be over too soon, it can be none too soon to set up the tree, to turn on the lights, and turn up the tunes. I mean, in a year that was kinda just two months — then pandemic — and then Christmas, the weary are more than ready to let all the joy, hope, and peace be epic this year.
String up the lights! Set out the candles! Celebration is a smart strategy.
Our oldest of seven kids, Caleb, he tries to keep a half-kiltering tree from going trunk over tea-kettle in a tangle of twinkle light, and I can still see him as a toothless 5-year-old boy, wildly looking forward to Christmas, asking me one night as I tucked him, this fistful of questions that’s wildly upended Christmas for us every year since:
“If we’re all looking forward to Jesus’ birthday — why are we all looking forward to getting gifts for ourselves? Why do I get gifts if it’s actually Jesus birthday? Shouldn’t He be the one getting all the gifts?”
I kinda sputtered for words and then — just looked the kid right in the eye. Kids can ask you questions that you have to answer with your life.
Maybe his questions didn’t so much upend our Christmas — but made it finally end up right:
If you’re really living in the Upside Down Kingdom of Jesus, how do you have an Upside Down Christmas and actually bring your gifts to the King?
How can you raise kids to look forward more to the gift of Jesus who came for them, than getting any other gifts coming to them?
If we are most what our hearts love most, how do we make Jesus what we love most about Christmas?
That little toothless 5-year-old boy, he grew into a 25-year-old young man who plugs in the propped tree and pulls his was-5—but-is-now-6- year-old little sister up onto his knees to tell her a story.
A story he dreamed up about a little girl — just like her! — who had sheep — just like her!
A story that he wrote down, and a neighbour girl we’ve long loved, she painted all the pages with pictures of wonder — because sometimes the questioning wonder of a long ago little boy at Christmas grows into a young man’s vision for a generation of kids who want Jesus more than anything else they want.
So the Big Brother reads his story to his little smiling sister, a story he dreamed up called, “The Light Gift” of how little Leora’s sheep was due to have a baby lamb, and she wanted to run from her mama in the village out to her shepherd father in the hills to be there when her sheep gave birth, because what could be worse than missing the birth of your Lamb?
Yet all along the way? Little Leora ran in to things that seemed to be in the way: someone who needed this, someone who needed that, all the things that got in the way of all her plans.
Kind of like a year we have all just painfully lived.
“But Leora could hear the sure song of her own heart beat: “Stay on the Way and treat everyone as you would the coming King!”
That. When the year goes south: Stay on the Way.
When the world splits divided: Stay on the Way and treat everyone as you would the coming King.
When you have to navigate the holidays through unparalleled days: Stay on the Way and treat everyone as you would the coming King.
Little Sister smiles big as her Big Brother reads how Leora, who is anxious not to miss the birth of her lamb, still reaches out to help someone here, surprises someone with a hand there.
Yet all doesn’t go as planned.
Yeah — looking right at you 2020.
And Leora misses the birth of her little lamb. Her father asks if she got lost somehow along the way since she took so long?
But Leora explains how she reached out to help with a need here, and lingered longer to love there, because, even when things seemed to go wrong on the way, and things seemed to get in her way, her heart beat with one certain song: “Stay on the Way and treat everyone as you would the coming King.”
But — Big Brother turns the pages for his little sister — when Leora listens to the angel that ignites the hills, turns and runs to the manger with the shepherds, and ends up holding her light up to help the shepherds and her little sister see — Leora discovers how all the ways she loved turned out to be a gift to the coming Baby King.
She hadn’t missed the birth of her Lamb after all.
And I’m nodding: This isn’t the year to miss the Lamb, this isn’t the year to miss the Light of the World.
This isn’t the year to miss being the light. We all desperately need the Light more than ever.
Big Brother shows Baby Sister how the wooden star he made for over the manger — it can slip right into her hand.
And she too can be like little Leora: she can surprise people with an act of kindness — and leave the star as a calling card that the Light of Christ was here.
And then slip a bit of straw into the wooden manger, because whatever you do for anyone else, you do for the coming King.
“So when anyone in the house finds the star left with a little surprise of love?” Big Brother grins to Baby Sister,
“It’s then their turn to be the gift — to do a surprising little act of kindness for someone else — and pass the star and the Light of Jesus on — because this is how we all get to be the gift back to Jesus.”
I’m blinking it back. That toothy little boy grew into a tender man, who is passing on the torch and tradition of making Christmas about Christ, and the Star can move all through the holidays, from one secret act of kindness to another, and the hope of Christ’s Light can go on, and on, and on.
Because? In our homes and down our streets and across our fences, this matters more than anything right now.
We all have one job and one job only at the end of 2020: help each other see the Light.
Love the people who don’t like you.
Be wildly kind to the people who aren’t your kind of people.
Be love so the world learns to love each other again.
Take heavy burdens off of each other, lighten each other’s load, be a light for each other.
“Be a light so lovely… that all want to know the source of it,” is what Madeleine L’Engle wrote.
Be a light so lovely that all are drawn to the flame of such love. Be a light so lovely that injustice withers away.
Be a light in the dark, and you’ll light up faces of in the dark — not of monsters — but of people who, in all their brokenness, image God.
There are never monsters in the dark. There are simply people in the dark, hurting people, struggling people, turned-around people, Imago Dei, made-in-the-image-of God people.
What can be a bridge from the dark to the light right now — is our outstretched arms.
This is hard, and this is holy, and this could be the holy-days this year, for all of us.
Because this is exactly the way of God’s whole cosmos:
The clouds don’t withhold and withdraw, but bestow a benediction of snow.
Stars don’t orchestrate for their own spotlight but choreograph in constellations of God-glory.
Trees don’t wrap their limbs around themselves but reach out.
And the light, all the light, keeps overflowing and spilling on and on.
The universe is universally about giving.
And we give our children, our families, our communities, the most meaningful gift this year when we let them unpack them what they, like all the world made, were made for: We are all meant to be a gift.
When Big Brother kneels down and lays the star in his little sister’s hand, he whispers it with all the wonder of that little toothy boy I remember him, just a blink ago:
“So now? You get to be like Leora, you get to stay in the Way and treat everyone as you would the coming King — you get to love them like you would Jesus — which is your gift to Jesus!”
Her eyes light.
And something ignites in this tired mama this year.
This is the year not to have to brave the crush and rush of the malls and the stores, to buy even more gifts, produce even more glitter, perform even more grandly.
This is the Christmas to simply lighten the heavy load of the season, unburden the collective weight on all our weary minds — and give us all a light gift, the lightest gift of all — the gift of getting to be light in the dark.
Be a light so lovely that all are drawn to the flame of such love.
Be a light so lovely that those in the dark see a different way to love.
When I look at that little wooden star there in her open hand, it’s clear how it’s brilliantly possible this Christmas of 2020 to stay on the Way:
Ignite the world with a love to burn back the dark — and you see the coming King.
You’ve had quite the year — & you’re not alone.
What you need? Is to ignite your family with a tradition that ignite their hearts with a real, durable joy
The Light Gift, an artistic, creative collaboration of the Voskamp family and their very closest friends, began as a question twenty years ago in our oldest’s 5-year-old little heart: “If Christmas is about the King’s birthday — how can I make sure I give gifts to the King?”
How do you raise kids to look forward more to the gift of Jesus who came for them — than getting any other gifts coming to them?
And if we are what our hearts love most — how do we make Jesus what we love most about Christmas?
– hands you a torch, to pass on the flame of faith,
– hands you a new tradition to push back the dark,
– hands you light to lighten the load and ignite your heart with the kind of love that you want most this Christmas.
(Related: Looking for all kinds of FREE resources too, to have yourself the Greatest Little Christmas? Voskamps are all things Meaningful, JOYFUL Christmas 2020, & we’ve got you covered right over here too.)