Altar Call -- Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
December 23, 2001

Once again Christmas is upon us!

Another year is winding down. The year we will always associate with "911" is coming to a close. And with only two days left before Christmas, it is time for some of us to go Christmas shopping. I love the smart people who get it done early, but every Christmas Eve I am encouraged to find that there are thousands like me who wait until the last minute to buy those special gifts. So tardy friends, I will see you at the mall tomorrow night.

This is always a season of mixed emotions. Some are sad and anxious for Christmas to be over. Others are happy and excited, like little children spellbound by fanciful notions of what they will find under the tree on Christmas morning. We are all touched by the sadness of families that, for a variety of reasons, will not get together at Christmas. Some by choice because of hurt and painful memories. Others by circumstances beyond their control, such as having loved ones serving in the military in foreign lands like Afghanistan.

It is a time of high energy and great fatigue. Some people seem never to tire, going at a pace that makes us weary just to watch them. Others are dragging, using a cane, crutches, or a wheelchair, and wondering if the day will ever end. Some bounce along the sidewalks like a rubber ball while others are moving like Tim Conway and praying for a place, a bench, anything, so they can sit down and rest for a few minutes.

Christmas is a season of monotonous sameness as well as surprises. Some things never change. Some of the decorations are 20 years old, and Mama must find them and use them every year. The gifts some people give are always the same. Uncle Jed always give you a book, and not necessarily one you want to read. Aunt Polly always gives you a fruitcake that even the birds won’t eat when you toss it in the backyard.

But, thank goodness, there are always a few pleasant surprises. Delicious pecans will arrive in the mail, an unexpected gift from good friends. Two jars of jam and jelly will appear on your desk, without a card to identify the donor, but your secretary’s watchful eye helps you know what sly Santa slipped in to share a tasty gift from his pantry.

Eventually we are surprised when Uncle Jed wearies of giving us a book and gives us a flashlight instead. And Aunt Polly, perhaps suspicious that we really may not like her fruitcakes all that much, surprises us with a gift of matching kitchen aprons. We want to laugh but cannot risk it when she says proudly, "I thought you would love to wear them when you cook together; I bought them in New Orleans." Right.

Simple gifts that we did not expect are among the best joys of Christmas. Three oranges and a cup of candy, a book, or a very nice ink pen, each becomes a gracious expression of love from friends who just want you to know they care. A package of steaks evokes a "Wow!" as you realize again how blessed you are to be loved by friends who know you well but still love you.

As wonderful as some of these gifts are, the intangible gifts are just as precious to us. A phone call or a personal letter from an old friend touches the heart. Even a Christmas card with a personal note scribbled on it can relieve the tedium of the day. A hug or a hearty smile, and the cheerful words, "Merry Christmas," will always brighten our way, no matter how difficult the unseen burdens we may be bearing.

Many of us cannot remember what other family members gave us for Christmas last year. Was it a drill, or socks, a tie, or a shirt? After all, does it really matter? What matters is the love which the gift expresses. Christmas is mainly a time when, more than any other time of the year, we feel a strange compulsion to say "I love you" to one another. That is what Christmas is all about -- realizing how blessed we are to have the capacity to love others and to be loved by them.

God started all this, you know, long ago when he decided to say "I love you" by sending us the gift of that baby born in Bethlehem.

Merry Christmas!