Friday, December 14, 2018

Christmas Nostalgia

"Merry Christmas Grandma ...
we came in our new Plymouth!"
Norman Rockwell. 1949.

Copyright © Edward Riojas

“Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please do put a penny in the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!”

It’s hard to escape nostalgia this time of year. It drips off snowy roofs, Christmas trees, and everything else that surrounds us. Christmas songs – especially secular ones – have been playing since Halloween, filling radio waves, shopping malls, and grocery stores with jingle bells, chimes, and glockenspiels. Admittedly, even curmudgeons allow for the seasonal wave of sappy songs, but there is a peculiar aspect of this nostalgia that we are often loath to admit – it is a nostalgia that is often not our own.

Teenagers may well recognize the raspy voice in “Holly Jolly Christmas,” even though Burl Ives recorded the song in 1964 – more than half a century before they were born. Many of us sentimentally cling to Bing Crosby’s “I’ll be home for Christmas,” though the song first struck a tender chord for a nation caught up in a World War. Few of us were around to fully appreciate the song’s original context in 1943. Our collective nostalgia goes far beyond the experiences of our parents and grandparents, and little stops us from getting caught up in visions of one-horse open sleighs, ha’pennies, and figgy pudding.

This sort of false recollection was also shared, in Biblical proportions, by the children of Israel. They waxed nostalgic in classic fashion when complaining of being led into the desert by Moses.

““Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.”” [Numbers 11: 4b,5]

Unfortunately, they didn’t remember the ‘free’ fish was paid for with harsh labor and scourging and death. One can easily assume their visions of abundant produce were exaggerated, as well.

There is a vast difference between man’s ability to reminisce and the Lord’s memory. Whenever Scripture says that the Lord “remembered,” it is always linked to something immense and unfathomable. It is often extremely tenderhearted as only a Divine Father may own. Sometimes it is inescapably terrible, but never is it clouded by sappy nostalgia – false or otherwise.

In yet another Divine mystery, God remembers His promises, even when sin is seemingly the deal-breaker. While the world was in such a state – indeed, precisely BECAUSE it was in such a state – the Lord remembered the promise made to our first parents and sent a Redeemer into the world as the Christ Child. Christmas is a time for us to remember all that the Lord has done for us; for stooping to our sin-filled world; for His love in sacrificing His own Son on our behalf.

And if the mystery of His Divine memory is not enough, we look forward to that day when the God of all creation will somehow deny His own omniscience and lose His memory. As He promises in Jeremiah 31: 34b, “...I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” This is something we dare never forget.


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