Christmas Presence

Christmas Presence

By Mark Leitheiser

Christmas, it seems, is an endless buffet for the senses. Whether it’s the smell of freshly baked cookies, the taste of fudge or the sound of timeless carols, the Christmas season provides each of us with a delicious sensory overload. A bracing pinch of cold on our cheeks or the pulsing heat of a warm fire remind us that Christmas season is here again.

New winter snow, falling softly like a ticker tape parade through the longest nights of the year resembles life in a freshly-shaken snow globe. It doesn’t get much prettier than that. Those snobs in the South might claim the weather high ground in January but with the crisp beauty of early winter on our side, Christmas is all ours.

Yet, despite the sensory pallet before us, we tend to overlook winter’s beauty in the pursuit of other things this time of year. What things could be more important than nature’s frozen bounty? Consider: what do Santa, Rudolph and Black Friday have in common? The answer, of course, is presents!

Ask any child what he/she wants for Christmas and you’ll be hard pressed to hear, “winter’s beauty!” Like it or not, presents now serve as the gold standard for Christmas. From trucks to diamonds to talking dolls, presents have become the currency of the modern Christmas celebration. It is with this in mind that I would like to offer you, my valued reader, some heartfelt, non-refundable Christmas presents. To open them, read on.

First, I would like to offer you joy. It can be found in many ways, but perhaps the best avenue is through the gift of music. I’d sing for you but I’ve heard worn out brake pads carry a better tune than I. Fortunately, Christmas abounds with music all around us with everything from the lighthearted, “Grandpa Got Run Over by a Reindeer” to the deeply spiritual hymns. Is there any sound more beautiful than a full congregation singing, “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve? If there is heaven on earth, that might be it.

There are many other musical options, of course. Is there a musical artist on the planet who has not sung, “I’ll be Home for Christmas”? If you can’t find a song for the season, you’re not trying very hard. Surprisingly, some of the best renditions come from videos. One favorite, sung by nearly every artist, is the spiritual narrative, “The Little Drummer Boy.” There are many wonderful variations, but for my money, no one can touch the uplifting strains of the Vienna Boys’ Choir’s version of the crudely animated 1968 Rankin-Bass namesake video that can still make old men cry. I hope you enjoy your first gift- joy through music.

Your second gift is wisdom. Like my singing, my qualifications here are to be found wanting. In elementary school, we once created The Three Wise Men from macaroni which we sprayed gold and glued to a green background. This passed as acceptable, but it was an earlier effort that has haunted me at family gatherings ever since.

In a nod to my artistic abilities at an early age, I attempted to draw and color The Three Wise Men which somehow morphed into rodent-shaped heads. Thus, was born, The Three Wise Gophers. Today, in a world full of wise guys, the bible offers a glimpse of truly wise men in the Christmas story.

The same “The Little Drummer Boy” video features a clear of example of wisdom when one of The Wise Men- the Magi- tells a young boy, Aaron, “We are mortal kings only,” and then wisely directs the boy to go to the newborn babe with his simple gift. If you haven’t seen this one, it’s worth your time. Enjoy your second gift- wisdom.

Your third gift is charity, which reminds us of the great irony that in order to receive, we must give. The Magi knew this as they faithfully offered gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child. Their example is as important today as it was then. Whether you give your dollars to a charity, shovel snow for a neighbor or feed someone who needs a meal, you have the opportunity to enjoy the gift of charity. All you have to do is give it away. Share your third gift- charity.

Your fourth gift is hope. We live in a fractured world yet the Christmas story offers each of us hope for the future. Clergy across the world will proclaim the good news during Christmas yet another animated classic distills this idea into a simple message of hope. In “A Charlie Brown Christmas” Linus pads onto the stage and recites, “ . . . for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy. It shall be to all people . . .” In a world wracked with hurt and despair, the Christmas story throws each of us a lifeline, a reason to believe in better days ahead. Trust in your fourth gift- hope.

I’ve saved the best for last because the best of your presents is simply your presence! All the presents in the world have little meaning if you’re not there to share them with family and friends. Presents will grow old and lose their luster but presence is the gift that keeps on giving. In the end, it’s time with family and friends that really counts. Why do you think we call this moment, the present?

Christmas is, indeed, an endless buffet for the senses. This season, may your buffet also include joy, wisdom, charity and hope while dripping with blessings called family and friends. On behalf of Sweetums, Bubba, Petey and three very wise gophers, I wish you a blessed holiday season. Merry Christmas, my friend.


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