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Christmas fell on a Sunday this year, and this juncture presented an eloquent coincidence.  A day of rest merged with a day of celebration, and I enjoyed the chance to experience Christmas in a way that surprised me in many ways.

Probably like most of us in the United States, I typically face the approaching Christmas season with anticipation and dread.  I look forward to the absence of a work schedule, the presence of special family and friends and the joy of unexpected gifts.

On the other hand, I chafe at the increasing commercial pressure that comes our way to “buy” into the Christmas season.  Halloween costumes are barely off the shelf before green, red and white decorations spill out from the shelves, punctuated by glistening tinsel and shiny bulbs.  Then, the relentless sales messages bombard us, promising an array of bargains and sales that we become convinced we cannot live without.  This season, “black Friday” sales reached a new level of intensity and debate as retailers pushed the opening hours to a new early hour—the midnight of Thanksgiving Day.  In fact, employees for Target Corporation sent thousands of written protests objecting to the first-time store policy requiring stores to open at midnight, and employees to cut short their own Thanksgiving celebrations in order to be ready for work.

In 2011, we saw a rising number of increasingly popular public demonstrations to “occupy” financial centers and outdoor venues to call attention to stark social and economic inequalities among us.  Time Magazine even named its “Person of the Year” for the ubiquitous protester as appearing in nations, cities and towns around the globe.

What a challenging time to think about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, who belief tells us was born of poor parents and in the most humble of circumstances.  I tried to imagine, from time to time, what it might be like to conceive of a baby born today who might have potential to change the world in profound ways, only we wouldn’t know it.  It was a challenge a lot of times to contemplate a spiritual message in the midst of Santa-driven messages.  Maybe, Santa has the more aggressive public relations publicist than Jesus.

In our home, Christmas was especially meaningful, and challenging.  Eight weeks ago, we welcomed two girls, ages 12 and 14, into our home as our adoptive daughters.  So the time leading up to the holidays was tinged with an extra layer of frenzy and anticipation.

I would love to say that this time has been marked by a seamless transition in which two strangers to us walked into our home and we all instantly blended into the iconic family image that artist Norman Rockwell captured so famously in his many paintings and prints.  But truthfully, the time so far has been marked by episodes of great joy punctuated by tension and disagreements.  And one our most intense disagreements came the night before Christmas Eve.

Our Christmas Tree touched the ceiling and was loaded with presents underneath.

We worked through it, and the experience taught us a lot about each other, parents and siblings, as we continue to work on becoming the family we know we can become.  I don’t mind admitting that, as I walked past our Christmas tree packed with a ridiculous amount of packages and stuffed stockings for the family, that I thought, “maybe we should dial this back” so we wouldn’t appear to reward bad behavior.

But when Christmas day came, our three children (including our grown son) were at church with us and after the early services, reveled in the multiple gifts and surprises my husband and I had planned.  And then it hit me.  Christmas giving is not about Santa’s “naughty or nice” formula, but about the unmerited grace of God.  We cannot possibly try to earn our blessings, but we do have the daily opportunities to bless someone else, just because we can.

I hope that your Christmas was all that you wished for. Please share if you can.  If not, remember we always have tomorrow to live the message of Christmas, regardless of the date on our calendar.