Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas reflections

by John D Ramsey
Wii finally did it. After 27 years of marriage and four children ages 24, 23, 11, and 6, we bought our first video gaming console. Why, because the Wii is active and social in nature – not to mention just a bit silly, which suits our family, too.

We celebrated Christmas on the 20th this year because that is when the big kids could come to Kansas City. Now they are home in Texas and Minnesota, and today (Christmas) is a project day in our house. We had grand plans for a turkey dinner today, but truthfully, we have indulged in Lisa’s fantastic cooking for too many days in a row. Not only that: we went to Pizza Bella Monday night for a sampling of their wood-fired pizzas (five pizzas for the seven of us was just about right). My critique: awesome! If you live near Kansas City or ever visit Kansas City, Pizza Bella is on the short list of restaurants you must try.

Dad came down for our Christmas celebration, too. He brought everyone gifts from Mom’s trinkets and gadgets. Dad did a wonderful job choosing what of Mom’s things to give to each of us. Memories of Mom and the thoughtfulness of Dad combined to make each gift treasured. The little girls cupped in their hands the glass figurines that Dad gave to them. Claire held hers up and said, “Look what Pa gave me.” I am not sure he saw her reaction, but I did.

The Wii was the about the only thing we bought for the little girls. Lisa bought Cara a KitchenAide food processor as well as several other smaller gifts. I bought Daniel a MXL v76t tube microphone. My operating theory is that men would rather have one gift that enhanced their arsenal than many smaller gifts. Lisa thinks that women would rather have many gifts than one of anything. The tube microphone seemed a bit exotic. I thought it might captivate Daniel’s imagination just a bit. He says it sounds different from his other microphones. I would like to assume it sounds better, but learning how to use a microphone is a bit like adapting to a new musical instrument – optimization requires experimentation. Daniel will send me audio samples in a couple days, when he does I will append them to this post.

Daniel bought his mom several bottles of Charles Shaw (Two Buck Chuck). We opened a Cabernet Sauvignon with our lasagna Sunday evening. It was drinkable and probably as good better than a house red at most restaurants. With all the rich food on the menu recently, I have taken to heart Paul’s instruction to Timothy, “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach.” 1 Timothy 5:23 (NASB)

Daniel helped me get the Wii configured on the BenQ projector. Everyone in the room can enjoy watching the Wii on the eight-foot screen. I came downstairs to investigate Internet on the Wii and discovered that Claire had created a Mii that looked just like me.

A screen grab of my Wii-Mii. Daniel is entering frame on the left.
I tried bowling, but found that my Mii was a bit too over-celebratory. The shooting game was fun. While I am still curious about Internet browsing on the Wii, I am too cheap to spend $5 on a web browser. I was disappointed that the Wii could not play DVD’s. I am much to cheap to spend money on a full AV system, so for now we will have to swap cords when we switch from Wii to DVD.

This morning Lisa put new socks and underwear in gift bags, and the girls opened them at breakfast. It makes me wonder whether the girls will remember this Christmas as the year they received a Wii or whether they will remember it as the “underwear Christmas.” I will remember it for many reasons few of which have anything to do with gifts given or received.

  • It is the first Christmas since Mom’s passing.
  • It is the first Christmas our immediate family was not together on Christmas day.
  • It is the first Christmas that we shared our family celebration with someone yet outside the family – Daniel brought his girlfriend, Rhonda.
  • This year’s Christmas party was the largest we have ever hosted – over 30 people came for our Christmas open house.
  • Our hosting the white elephant gift exchange with Lisa’s extended family is becoming a tradition. Gabby and I teamed up and ended up with a giant remote control.

Last night we went to church and sang Christmas carols with friends. Holding candles in the darkened sanctuary, we stood and sang “Silent Night” a cappella. To a cynic it might seem cliché, but the simple beauty of the moment makes a compelling memory. It seems to me that Christmas is about memory. Celebrating the birth of Christ is certainly core to the collective memory, yet Christmas memories are compound.

Some people try to justify Christmas traditions by drawing straight yet implausible lines to Scriptural symbols. For instance, some people claim that their Christmas tree reminds them of the cross of Calvary. I suppose that is fine, but the Christmas tree in our home is a place to hang our best memories. Our sins were nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ to be forever forgiven and forgotten. Yet in our home, we hang ornaments on the Christmas tree to remember what and whom they represent. Mom always objected to idolizing the cross, anyway. Mom felt that people sometimes focused on the cross rather than focusing on the Savior. I suppose I let traditions be traditions without manufacturing a cause.

A Christmas tree in our home is not a sacred symbol. Rather it is a tradition of memory. I told the little girls that the Christmas tree serves as a reminder of everything for which we should be thankful. Many of our ornaments commemorate a personality or an event. Each is a monument to a memory and together they celebrate the story of our lives. Each year deepens the sentimentality toward the old ornaments and welcomes the new ones into this stream of consciousness we celebrate at Christmastime.

Last year Lisa gave me a squirrel because of my continuing battle to save our shake roof from destruction. This year my squirrel ornament hangs next to the reminder of Cara’s leopard print phase (was it a phase?).

When the big kids were little, I made Daniel this carousel tiger on a soldered copper wire armature using newspaper, masking tape, and papier-mâché. I made Cara a carousel giraffe, but it proved much more fragile than the tiger. Each Christmas, I expect to find the lost giraffe among the ornaments, but I think it has been lost along the way.

The older kids each were given a two-dollar bill for Christmas one year. Both bills stayed on the tree for several years, but now one is missing. Hmm.

My first baby’s first Christmas. I took the photo with an Olympus OM-2 with an 85mm f/2 lens and three Broncolor Impact strobe lights. I used a red gel over the hair light. For soft focus effect, I think I sprayed hairspray on a UV-filter. Lisa was not far off frame just in case Cara decided to lean out of the chair.

Lisa gave this ornament to me this year because it reminded her of jewelry I bought for her many years ago at Union Station in St. Louis.
This sampling of ornaments conjures for me deep feelings of love for my family and extreme humility and gratitude for God’s grace and mercy on behalf of my family and me. Celebrating Christmas is in every respect celebrating the grace of God. Where does God’s grace begin or where does it end? God’s grace toward me begins with the breath of life he granted me. His grace has continued through my life and expresses itself in my marriage, children, friends, the home he has provided for us, a fun job which pays the bills and more.

Yet most of all God’s grace appears in the person of Jesus Christ, who two thousand years ago left the glory of heaven to become a man. Emanuel, another name for Jesus, means “God with us.” The Apostle John puts it this way,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not . . .

That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5, 9-14 (KJV)
When Jesus became a mortal man, he became subject to death. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Yet Jesus had no sin. His sacrificial death paid the price for my sin. “So Christ was offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” Hebrews 9:28 (KJV)

As Christmas “wraps up” around the house and I prepare to go back to the office tomorrow, I thank God for his grace. I thank him for life and love, but most of all I thank him for sacrificing his human life to grant me salvation unto eternal life.

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