Call me old-fashioned but I sure do love tradition.
And my favourite traditions of all are the Christmas ones.
The kids love them too. They look forward to putting up the tree, eating Christmas treats, watching Christmas movies... oh and of course opening Christmas presents.
Traditions give richness and colour to a special season, right?
They give children a sense of belonging and create wonderful memories. Great.
Why then does it seem to me (and apparently many other bloggers out there) that in spite of all the fun of the green and red traditions, there is something missing.
There's an emptiness. A sense of going through the motions.
And I keep asking myself, why?
Why do we feel kind of empty when we are baking Christmas cookies? Why the flatness when hanging the tinsel? How come the twinkling lights are just not doing it for me this year?
And the thing I've come to is this: Traditions have to have meaning behind them, or they are pointless.
We have to have a sense of why we are doing all this. What are we celebrating, and why.
Now off the top of my head, for the sake of my own Christmas Spirit, I am going to try to recapture the Why.
Why Christmas? I'm not talking about Winter Solstice here. We are steaming in the midst of a hot humid summer. Winter Solstice has nothing to do with it for me.
Christmas is the remembrance and celebration of Christ's birth.
OK, stay with me here.
What is so special about that, right? Millions of babies born every day. What's the big deal about this one?
The Story, the miracle of Christmas is incredibly simple and surprisingly wonderful.
A 15-year-old Jewish girl, engaged to a carpenter in a no-account village in the outbacks of Palestine has an encounter with an angel - or so she says when she is found to be pregnant.
Shocking in that day and age and potentially punishable by stoning.
The fiance is the only one who knows for sure that it wasn't him who got her in that state.
But he's a good guy. He doesn't want her to be killed even though he knows she must have done the dirty on him. So he says nothing, deciding to break the engagement when the fuss dies down, letting everyone assume the baby is his. Scandalous but not terminal.
Then he gets a visit from the angel. It seems his fiance was telling the truth: the baby is Divine, God is his father. This child is the Promised One who will reconnect people with the Almighty.
Even as I write this I know that this story is not really explainable in human terms. Visits from Angels? Divinely conceived babies? Accept it as true or not, this is the story.
Fast forward about seven months. The pregnant girl is now married to the carpenter and due to give birth any week now.
Then along comes the Roman Emperor and orders a census - oh, and everyone has to go back to their home town to register.
How inconvenient. Especially when you are 9 months pregnant and married to a man who comes from a town 128 kilometers away. And the only way to get there is by walking.
A fit person could walk the distance in four days, apparently. But we are talking a pregnant girl here. It would have taken a week, they reckon.
I've been nine months pregnant before. It's painful and uncomfortable at the best of times, even lying down. I can not imagine how it would have been spending a week on the back of a donkey in that state.
And of course when this pair arrive at their destination, everybody else has beaten them to it (after all it only took them four days) so all the hotels are booked.
Meanwhile Mary goes into labour. On the back of the Donkey. While her husband frantically knocks on doors. No Room at the Inn.
Until finally someone takes pity on them and offers them a stable.
Ever tried imagining how that would have been? Giving birth for the very first time in a cave, on a pile of straw, with no doctor, no midwife, not even your mother.
This little fifteen year old pulls it off and Jesus is safely born into the World.
Which is right about when things start getting interesting.
There's a Star that shines above the stable. Some Kings from Eastern Lands, astrologers who study the Heavens, have trekked for weeks after discovering this unusual star. They followed it all the way to backward Palestine, knowing that it meant the birth of a King.
What do they find? A newborn baby in a stable. Not human royalty, but a King nonetheless.
And here we come to the part that tugs my heartstrings.
Assuming you believe the story (which I do) why would God choose to reveal himself in this way?
Why come to Earth at all?
And if He did, why not appear in all His glory? Why not arrive as a mighty Prince with an army of angels?
Why strip Himself of all His power, all His divinity and come as a helpless baby?
And to go even further, not a baby born to human Kings or even a wealthy merchant.
A baby born to the humblest of people. In the humblest of circumstances.
There people, there lies the Miracle of Christmas. There is the essence of the Spirit of Christmas.
A King gave it all up for Love.
He saw us struggling with our rules and our religions. Trying to reach Him and failing every time.
Ultimate Power clothed itself in Weakness and came to meet us where we are at.
Not to overwhelm us and force our obedience.
But to live as the humblest of us lived. In poverty, in frailty.
To identify with our weakness.
And to lead the way back to connection with our Maker, our Father.
By becoming one of us He shows us the Way.
By giving up everything He shows us we matter.
By paying such a high price, He shows us our value to Him.
"Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards all mankind."
That's what the angels sang and that's why they sang it.
They sang in Honour of the Prince of Heaven born as one lower than the angels.
Wonderful, Counselor, Prince of Peace, Almighty God.
A man called Nicolas honoured Jesus by giving gifts to the poor to celebrate His Birth. The Church made Nicolas a Saint and continued his tradition of giving at Christmas. The man in red. Saint Nick. I don't mind Santa at Christmas, he's fun.
But lets come back to the the Reason for the Season.
Celebrate Grace. Celebrate Hope and New Life.
The Baby in the Manger. Love Come Down.
I feel more Christmassy already.
Images from GoogleImages: The Nativity Story Movie