On Christmas morning in 1892 a little girl finished opening all her presents and then said to her father, “Wouldn’t it be great if it could be Christmas every day of the year?” Her father looked at her without saying anything for a few moments, and then finally said softly, “Do you really think so?” “Oh yes, Daddy,” she said, “that would be just wonderful!”
The little girl’s father was William Dean Howells (1837-1920) who is not so well known today, but in the late 1800’s he was a famous writer and magazine editor. His little daughter’s question gave him an idea for a short story, and he wrote a little piece he called simply “Christmas Every Day.” In the story a fairy godmother appears to a little girl on Christmas Day, offering to grant any wish. The little girl’s wish is that it could be Christmas every day for a whole year. The wish is granted and the very next morning it is Christmas again, with the house full of presents, the table full of food, and the relatives all at the door. Of course, the children are delighted, and the adults don’t mind having another day off, so it is a pleasant little surprise for everyone. By the third day, things begin to change a bit. The kids are still having fun, but some of the adults are not so anxious for another day of festivities. You can guess the rest. Howells, the writer, has some fun describing all the problems that begin to arise when every day becomes a special day, and nobody works and nothing gets done. Not only that, but the presents pile up and there is no place to put them all, everyone gets sick of seeing each other every day, and people desperately desire to get back to their normal lives. Before long even the children are sick of it all and grow increasingly irritable, even crying, “Oh no, not more presents!”
After he finished writing the story, William Howells read it to his daughter. Even though she was not very old, she understood completely. And while some children might share the wish of that little girl, most adults are, by the 26th of December, ready to get back to the routine. Holidays and vacation days are something to look forward to and enjoy, but what makes those kinds of days special is that they come only once in a while. So we can enjoy the special days when they are here, but we do also like the normal routine of our day to day lives, and are glad to get back to it. In the same way, when you ask someone about their vacation, one of the most common responses, after even the very best vacations, is “Well, you know, it is good to go and good to come home.” We enjoy the special days and times, but we also long for the routine and the normal.
Now of course, if we get too much of the routine and the normal, we might well complain then, too, about life just being the same old thing day after day. There is a restlessness within us that can, at times, be hard to please, so there is a need for balance in our lives. No one would want Christmas every day, but neither would we want a life with no special days, nothing to celebrate, and no special reasons for taking the day off and getting together. The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes says it best in chapter 3 which begins with the words, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun.”
I have not yet said anything about the true meaning of Christmas, that story that has changed all our stories. That story itself contains an interesting balance between the normal and routine, and, the extraordinary and special. There is this normal young couple on a normal night in a normal little village and normal shepherds out in the field in their regular routine. But there is also an extraordinary sky full of angels announcing that this birth is good news for everyone who has ever lived. The child born in Bethlehem is to be the Savior of the whole world.
The Christmas story itself is an annual reminder that something way out of the ordinary has happened, something that changes the normal routine of everything and everyone. The normal big routine is that the generations come and go, people are born, they live, they get sick, and then they die. That is the most basic routine of all, and there is nothing anyone else has ever done to break out of that rut. But as the rest of this story that began on Christmas would unfold, the world would learn that the baby in the manger would have something to say and do about changing even that most basic routine. That baby who was born would grow to be a man, live a life, and then die a death, just like everyone else who has ever been born. Same old thing. But then, that man would rise again from the dead and would say to all, “I am the resurrection and the life, whosoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live again.” That man Jesus, grown up from that baby in the manger, broke into and changed the world’s most inevitable, and depressing, routine. (continued…)
Isaiah 48:6b — (God says), “From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you.”
Revelation 21:5a — He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
John 11:25 — Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.
–Isaac Watts (1674-1748)