Sat, May 25, 2024

Faith Friday: It’s all about presence

Steve Swanson is the former station manager of 88.3 WAFJ radio station in North Augusta.

Several memories from past Christmas seasons have recently come to mind.

My Mom had a habit of wrapping gifts at the last minute. Often, the process happens within hours of a family gathering. We’d see her toss wrapping paper, tape, and bows on her bed, and close the door. It would stay shut until she was finished with the whirlwind wrapping process. Somehow, she was ready when the door swung open minutes before the gift-giving began. I’m still kind of impressed.

When I was in 8th grade, I decided to give my older sister, Sue, a gift she’d really enjoy. Since she was a horse lover, I decided to complete an 8 X 10-inch paint-by-number (do they still make those?) picture of a horse head on velvet. Have you ever tried painting anything on velvet? It is quite a challenge. I eventually finished the task, but trust me when I tell you that my final effort would never end up displayed in a museum. Sue was gracious and acted pleased when she opened her one-of-a-kind gift.

Our daughter was four or five years old and singing in a school Christmas presentation. While singing Jingle Bells, the singers were supposed to put a “Rudolph” red nose over their nose (a nose much like you’d imagine a clown wearing). A big round bright red nose. Unfortunately, her dainty nose would not accommodate this facial prop, and the red nose simply would not stay on her face. She tried to make it stay on through the entire song. It never did, but I give her plenty of credit for persevering and trying to make it work.

I grew up in the upper Midwest where December snows were plentiful. It was common for us to build snow forts and drag sleds and toboggan to the hill next door for downhill fun. Sometimes, we even carved out igloos in the front yard after Dad used the tractor to make a huge pile of snow. Sometimes, we enjoyed a special treat when he would hop on the tractor and pull the rest of us (5 family members) behind on our toboggan. He would take us down the lane and then down the street on a ride through the neighborhood. Fun memory!

I recall Christmas Eve when I was perhaps eight. One of our family traditions was to open one gift on Christmas Eve. The rest had to wait until the next morning. On this Christmas Eve, my brother and I opened matching white plastic helicopters with not one, but two rotors! Each copter had a side door that opened for cargo with a string serving as a cable to raise and lower the platform. The helicopters didn’t have any batteries but were powered by our hands and imaginations. We had just started to really get into playing when my parents announced it was time to get ready for church.  (We always attended the Christmas Eve candlelight service). I recall not being especially excited to be whisked away from playtime to go to attend the service at First Lutheran and sit on the hard wooden pews.

Thanks for allowing me a brief stroll down memory lane. I am sure if you and I were sitting across a table from one another, we’d each have a slew of stories to share along with the experiences and feelings connected with our Christmas memories. Holiday times certainly do magnify and amplify all the feelings, both positive and negative.

Although I can recall a few specific gifts I have given and received over the years, the overwhelming memories for me are family gatherings peppered with laughter, worship services, and food that was part of the celebrations. It’s NOT about the presents, but the presence of people you are with and the relationships you have with them. Their presence is what matters most. Those are the memories that last!

When we get past all the decorations, gifts, special events, memories, and other holiday-related stuff, the message of Christmas is still (and always) the presence of Jesus. He came into the world as our greatest gift bringing hope, love, joy, forgiveness, and peace. His coming makes a fresh start possible and offers us the invitation to have a forever relationship with him.

My friend, Deanna has the right idea. She doesn’t wait until Christmas to put her nativity scene on display. Instead, she keeps it out all year as a daily reminder of God’s presence.

The Faith Hill song “A Baby Changes Everything” brings the message home. Take five minutes to listen when you have the chance.

As you celebrate this Christmas, remember that it is not about the presents. It’s about HIS presence!  That reality makes all the difference. Jesus is truly the greatest gift of all and should be the focus of our celebration. Have a wonderful time making memories and celebrating him! Emmanuel- God WITH us!

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