Christian Living

Spiritual Life

My First Christmas

I sang with the small group that gathered around the piano. Shirley, whom I later married, played carols and sang alto. My best friend, John Burbank, had a beautiful tenor voice. Others harmonized so their voices blended nicely. I knew enough about music to realize it sounded better if I moved away and listened.

I walked over to the window and stared into the dark evening. The snow had started to fall shortly after lunch on that Thursday—four days before Christmas. By now, at least two inches had accumulated. The streetlight made the heavy flakes glow as they hit the ground.

Just then, Shirley began to play "O Come All Ye Faithful." Of all the carols, that was and continues to be my favorite. Momentarily I closed my eyes and listened to them sing. When they finished the third stanza, I asked, "Would you sing it again? Just for me?"

Shirley touched the keys and they sang.

That was one of the most perfect moments in my life. Each Christmas I reflect on that scene. Many years have passed so my memory may not be accurate on every detail. It doesn't matter: That was my first Christmas—the first time I grasped the meaning and the purpose of that holy day.

I was a month away from my twenty-second birthday. I had grown up with a limited exposure to the church during my first eleven years. That's when I decided that church was "for old ladies and dumb kids." I had walked out of a Sunday school class, out of the building, and as far from Christianity as I could. For a decade I never walked inside a church building.

At age twenty-one, my world crashed over an aborted love affair. In my pain, I thought about God, and went to a church service. I'm not even sure why. On my way out, I picked up a free New Testament. I didn't return to that church, but I did read the New Testament.

After months of almost-daily reading, I decided I believed what I read. "If I believe, I need to do something about this," I said to myself. That's when I seriously attended church. I met Shirley and we fell in love. Six weeks before Christmas I was baptized in her church.

As the group reached the crescendo with "Christ the Lord," I smiled. I understood those words. It's not that they had been unintelligible; it was that I had been unable to personalize the Christmas message.

I knew the story—what child didn't? But until that night, the meaning of Christmas had been lost on me. The season had been one of giving and receiving gifts, of constant music in stores, and greetings everywhere of "Merry Christmas." People decorated their houses and sometimes their yards. The theaters released their cheery and sometimes sappy Christmas films.

At home my mother always made mince pie—her favorite, I suppose. Friends gave me gifts and I bought presents for them. In general, people seemed a little nicer and maybe a few degrees happier.

On that Thursday night before Christmas, I understood. Christmas is a night of promise—a promise to the entire world. God presented his greatest miracle to the world. In God's quiet way he was saying, "This is to show you my love. I've given you my son. One day he will grow up and willingly die for you. That's how much I love you—enough to give you the most important thing in the universe—a part of myself."

Tears surfaced and I turned away from the group. I suppose I was too embarrassed to let them see my tears. But those were what I called happy tears.

This is my first Christmas. Now I know what it means.

In the years since, I've celebrated Jesus' birth in many places and under varying circumstances. Many of them were special moments for me. But none of them have ever touched me quite as deeply as that first one.

Perhaps that's the reason: It was the first. It was an awakening. From someone who had no interest in spiritual things, God performed a special miracle in my life. That baby was a living love letter to me.

Excerpted from Christmas Miracles. © Cecil Murphey and Marley Gibson. Published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY  10010 www.stmartins.com. Used by permission

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