Seeing Christmas with New Eyes

I have always loved Christmas ever since I was little. I have memories of the Christmas in High Point when my cat decided it was a good idea to climb the Christmas tree so as to swat the bubble lights which were making him crazy. The tree came down in the middle of the night, breaking my favorite bubble lights. Things do go wrong at Christmas.

While things didn’t go wrong last Christmas, little did we know that our sweet Christy girl would be found dead only a couple of weeks later in her house in Durham. That, as they say, is a game changer. Suddenly what once made you happy, now has the capacity to make you cry, and in this case I am referring to Christmas. Christy loved going to the cathedral here in Lexington, so we are not doing that this year. She played Santa and gave out all the gifts here in Lexington, but we are not doing that either this year….. obviously. We are breaking the mold and celebrating in Massachusetts with my wife’s sister’s family and their animals. It will be different…. mercifully so. And I have resolved to see Christmas through different eyes, both literally and spiritually.

Literally, I now have new eyes. Double lens replacement due to cataracts has given me 20-20 for the first time since I was six. It’s weird not wearing glasses and discovering the world is not nearly so dull and dim as I had become accustomed to. Sometimes seeing things with new eyes can be so startling so vivid, so colorful, you might be forgiven for occasionally wanting the old eyes back…… well…. not really.

But spiritually what the sudden death of our first child, our Durham England born babe, has done has reminded me of something crucial. Family comes and family goes if you mean your physical family. They move away, tbey die, they become estranged…. anyway they are far from permanent. The only permanent things in this world are your ongoing relationship with God and with God’s people in all generations— the saints. And Christmas, however much we have tried to make it into something else, is primarily and eternally and most importantly about our relationship with Christ and Christians, not about our relationships with our physical families, EXCEPT in so far as they are part of the body of Christ. For anyone who is in Christ, there is a whole new creation…. and it has to do with the old things having passed away, and the new things having come to stay.

Our Christy girl will be celebrating Christmas with the saints above this year. My father got there before she did, and my grand parents long before that. They know far better than I do that the primary family is the family of faith, the everlasting family of which Christ is the head. Any other kind of family is temporal and temporary. So I have resolved to see Christmas this year as not a revisiting of family affairs of the Witheringtons but rather a celebration of family affairs which began in a manger in Bethlehem.

The Christian celebration of Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with paganism, or the feast of the winter solstice on December 21 (wrong day anyway) or Saturnalia. It has to do with the celebration of the coming of the Christ child into this world sometime between 2-6 B.C. to form a forever family of followers. And I am thankful to be a part of that number. The name which I bear that matters most and is everlasting is Christian, not Witherington, however much I may be proud to be a Witherington.

We named our daughter Christy Ann because more than anything else we wanted her to be a Christian. I am so thankful that in the lamb’s book of life her name can be found. And so I must keep Christmas differently this year. Not scanning the skies for a star, like the old magi, but looking at the familiar and the constant with a whole new set of eyes.

Joyeux Noel to one and all. BW3

  • Sariah

    Dr. Witherington,

    Thank you so much for your sharing. I believe my parents among the saints are happily celebrating Christmas with Christy above.

    Sariah (from Hongkong, who translated your “Revelation” in Chinese)

  • Ben Witherington

    Thanks Sarah. Merry Christmas

  • Mary Ann

    Thank you for this beautiful Christmas message, Dr. Witherington!

    Christmas blessings to you!

  • Michael

    I am so deeply humbled. Thank you for sharing your heart and speaking to my own. Blessings!

  • Kathi

    Thanks for the reminder of what Christmas truly is, and for another beautiful tribute to your daughter.

    Praying for you,

  • beth

    Blessings to each of you – thanks for sharing so intimately with us this year in ways that will help us all as we also face losses yet unknown…may the New Year bring peace and joy…

  • Lewis Archer

    Thanks. This is the first Christmas without my Mom. We ate at Waffle House at Thanksgiving waiting for her funeral on that Friday. However, God is faithful and she is in the peaceable kingdom. God bless you this Christmas!

  • anton jopko

    We pray that in time you will still look at Christmas with fond memories. Time and prayer does heal our wounds.

  • Rachel K

    Merry Christmas to you and yours xxx

  • Denis Schultz

    Thanks for sharing your Christmas thoughts. My father was born on the 25th of december and he died last spring. So we spend the first christmas without him and his anniversary. We are both sad because he left us and joyfull because he is now delivered from his terrible Alzheimers desease and in the peace of the Lord.
    Joyeux Noël to you and to your family from France !

  • http://www, ben witherington

    Merci Denis. Blessings, BW3

  • jason mankey

    Perhaps the Christian celebration of Christmas has nothing to do with ancient paganism, but the modern celebration of Christmas certainly does. Whether you use the trappings of evergreens, holly, or mistletoe or not they have become a part of the celebration of Christmas, and they do possibly have pagan origins. Instead of worrying about where things come from, and using those things doesn’t make someone pagan anymore than having the 25th of December off makes someone Christian, can’t we all just celebrate a beautiful midwinter day?