Written by Wye Huxford, Vice President of Spiritual Formation
If you are reading this, one thing for certain is that Christmas Day has come and gone! While the Christian calendar extends “Christmas” to Epiphany on January 6, most of us start thinking about taking the tree down as soon as the gifts are opened on Christmas Day.
We put a lot of time, energy and resources into Christmas. It seems fairly appropriate to ask, “Now what?” What happens after the celebration is over, the tree is down, the ornaments and wreaths are packed away for another year, and life returns to some sense of normalcy?
This question made me think about growing up. I was one of five children – the second born, but oldest son. My parents made sure that Christmas was a happy time for the five of us, as well as many other people. I can remember riding around with my dad, dressed up as Santa, in an old pickup taking gifts, food and always fruit to people who either worked on the farm, lived near the farm, or just had needs. My parents weren’t “rich” by any means, but apparently a generous, loving heart can provide “riches” in ways that are remarkable.
Nearly all the recipients of my parents’ generosity were black, but despite the era in which I grew up, I don’t remember thinking that white people and black people were somehow on opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to celebrating Jesus’ birth. I do remember thinking that the generous nature of my parents ought to be something to which I would pay attention.
Somewhere in the late 1950s – I think 1958 – I got an electric train for Christmas. It was pretty simple. None of the elaborate bridges, tunnels, stations and the like that are typical of electric trains today were included. It was just a simple circle of track, an engine, a few cars and a caboose. I don’t remember exactly what happened to it, but I wish I still had it. Not because it might be worth something in terms of dollars, but because it was such a great gift, with even greater memories.
The picture to the left is of my dad. Again, I think it is about 1958. He looks in this picture like I remember he almost always looked in those days—no frills, just an authentic dad. He was an extraordinarily hard worker. Not only did he work as a farmer, he also worked for Westvaco where he ultimately would be a foreman. It was about an hour-long drive to Westvaco from Russellville, and he made that trip almost daily. (Today I drive about the same distance to sit in an air conditioned office and teach students about the Kingdom of God. How could I complain about “the long drive” when I think about what my dad did all his life!)
As my dad grew older and a bit less aware of how many times he told the same story, he woud tell me his favorite story of how the older men in our little country church, Russellville Christian, would tell him he was working too hard and was going to kill himself if he weren’t careful. My dad, as he told that story, would wear little sheepish grin and say, “And I’ve lived longer than any of them did.” That would be followed with “Hard work won’t kill you.”
But this picture, it brings back some valuable “Now what?” memories. That electric train wasn’t just a Christmas Day project. I’m not even sure this picture was taken on Christmas Day. My dad, despite all of his hard work, always had time to be a dad. He played with the electric train even after Christmas. That’s why, when I see this picture, I remind myself that there is far more to Christmas than Christmas Day.
I can remember that the engine on that train was black, as were the cars. The caboose was red. The transformer was a kind of square black box that somehow made the train go around the tracks. But this picture brings back a flood of memories about a dad and a mother who cared about the implications of the Jesus story in ways that shaped my life and that still impact me.
I really don’t want some kind of grave marker with my name—dates of birth and death and some descriptive phrase about me when I die. However, if I did, I would only want one word as the descriptor of my life. That word would be generous.
I learned about generosity from parents who, despite not being “rich,” found a way to be generous to their children and lots of needy people around them. I learned about generosity from riding around in that old, light green pickup with bags of gifts, boxes of food and lots of fruit – freely given to people in need. I learned about that from a dad who despite working long hours, somehow found time to sit around a simple electric train track and invest in his children.
I once heard the late Frank Harrington preach a sermon titled, “There Nothing Over Like Christmas When It’s Over.” I don’t remember all the details, but do remember it being a great sermon. But may I suggest in this week after Christmas, that a careful look at the “now what?” question could mean that Christmas need not be over!
Be generous. Invest in others.