With the exception of a few months following my birth, I had always lived in South Carolina near my grandparents. But the early 1970’s ushered in a few Christmases that were far away. Celebrating Christmas with parents that love you is enjoyable, but parents don’t normally spoil their children like grandparents do. And mine did—at least my father’s.
My father received the disturbing news that he would soon be shipped to Taiwan. Not knowing how long he would be deployed—and fearing he might lose her while he was away, he asked my mom to marry him before he was shipped out. Though only 17 and a junior in high school, she agreed. After he departed, she promptly finished her education before he returned.
Upon Dad’s arrival back in the states, he was stationed at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and it was here I entered the world. We only stayed here a few short months, and obviously I don’t remember anything about it. Pictures stored in Mom’s family albums are the only proof I have. We returned to South Carolina where Christmases were celebrated at both grandparent’s homes with cousins in tow. Until I turned ten and life changed.
My father had entered the ministry and was now receiving a call from a church in Jackson, Tennessee. The prospect of moving to another state—and this one in particular, excited me, but leaving my extended family didn’t. But I had no choice. I was under age and dragged wherever my parents went. Mom was pregnant with my youngest brother, and my middle brother was only one. Since I was the oldest, I had to wear the strong face.
Members of Parkway Southern Methodist Church made us feel welcome, and this was special since we were so far from home. These were the days before interstates connected every major city, so the journey was long and involved treks through the winding hilly roads of the North Carolina and Tennessee mountains. I had never been so far from my grandparents before. As a small child, the trip seemed to take almost an entire day.
Trips back to South Carolina rolled around only twice each year: at Christmas and during the summer. And sometimes only at Christmas. While I made friends at our new home, I missed my family. Fortunately, Mom and Dad allowed me to spend the entire summer with my father’s parents where I would work with my grandfather on the ice cream truck. My grandmother would either come get me or Mom and Dad would make the drive to take me. One summer I even flew by myself back to South Carolina.
Christmas is that special time of year when a young boy wants to be with his parents but also his grandparents and cousins. These were the days of football field sized cars and no seat belt restrictions. I could lay in the back dash of the car if I wanted and soak up sunshine or play in the very back of my parent’s very long station wagon (the SUV of the seventies). Having this freedom made the trip more endurable as well as did marveling over the mountains as we passed through. Often we would stop in Cherokee, North Carolina, on the way there or back. It was my favorite place as a youngster and still is.
After what seemed like an eternity, we would finally pull into my grandparent’s driveway. They met us at the door, helped us unload, and ushered us into our rooms for our stay. I normally slept in my iron “soldier bed” located in my great-grandmother’s bedroom. She also lived with my grandparents—which was an extra treat. Christmas was celebrated with my father’s parents, and then we made the 30 minute drive to my mother’s parent’s home.
Though I had to endure an arduous and lengthy ride to celebrate Christmas during the three years we lived in Tennessee, the presents and sight of my family made the pain bearable. It must have a long journey for Christ as well. Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. (Ephesians 4:9 NLT)
Heaven may or may not be a locality we can discover, but it was the place from which God sent his Son to earth to be born of a virgin and die for humanity’s sins. That first Christmas journey required him to come to earth, live in a human womb for nine months, be born in a dark and dingy stable, and eventually be crucified by those who hated him and disbelieved his identity. But he was willing to make the journey because he loved you and me. This Christmas remember how far Jesus was willing to come to demonstrate his love for you.