Wind whistled through the trees and leaves crunched under our feet as we arranged our annual Christmas display. It was my year to decide where to put the one ornament that mirrored every neighbor’s – the gingerbread man. As people drove by to look at the lights, they look for the gingerbread man in every display. Other neighborhoods have candy canes, churches, stars and other themes.
“Does he look okay peeking from behind the bushes like this?” I asked my dad as he stepped back to look at the entire display.
“Move him out a little more, I can hardly see him. That’s good. Come tell me what you think.”
Walking to join him on the street, I remember our newest neighbor, an older man who volunteers at our school. My friends and I usually play a game of checkers or croquet with him on our way home from school. “I can’t wait to see what Mr. Waldorf puts up for decorations. He’s always talking about the Bible, so I know he’s a Christian. I bet he has the biggest display of all!”
“He may not choose to participate. Putting up a light display is a lot of work and Mr. Waldorf isn’t exactly young.” Three years my senior, Thad thinks he knows everything.
“But all the Christians put up lights. Think about it. The only ones on the street that don’t participate are the Cohen family and they are Jewish. Mr. Waldorf will put up a display. It would be unchristian not to.”
Dad shook his head. “We’ll see, son. We’ll see.”
A cup of hot cacao by the fireplace did not take my mind off anticipating our evening walk through the neighborhood. Darkness couldn’t come soon enough for me.
“Oh wow! I think everyone outdid themselves this year.” Thad spun around in the middle of the street like some woman in a Christmas movie. Teenagers are so weird.
Looking in awe at each yard, I was soon ahead in the “Where’s Waldo” hunt for gingerbread men. What I really looked forward to was Mr. Waldorf’s display. As we rounded the curve in the street, his lights didn’t appear to be on. Maybe he wasn’t home today to put them up. Maybe he didn’t realize that people would start driving the neighborhood this week to see the lights and find the gingerbread men.
“Ya know, Squirt, Christmas lights have nothing to do with being a Christian.” I hate it when Thad calls me “Squirt.” If I wasn’t so excited, I might not have let that comment go. Besides, what does he know?
I stopped and stared at the display in Mr. Waldorf’s yard, disappointed and confused. Was this his idea of Christmas lights? One lone spotlight shone on a wooden cross that looked like it was made of huge Lincoln Logs. His gingerbread man stood beside the cross, a wooden board tied to his hands as if he was holding a sign. The letters on the sign were easy to read. “He is Risen.”
As if to sense my need for an explanation, Mr. Waldorf greeted us from his front porch. “I know it’s nothing fancy but I like it. Gives the true meaning of Christmas in a simple way, don’t you think?”
“Huh? I don’t see Christmas at all, Mr. Waldorf. I see Easter.”
“What is Christmas, Billy?”
“And why do we celebrate Jesus’ birthday?”
“What do you mean?”
“There have been many people who have walked on this earth. Why do we celebrate Jesus’ birthday and not, say Julius Ceasar’s or Kublai Khon’s?”
I had paid attention in Sunday School enough to know what he was asking. “Because Jesus is God’s Son.”
“He died on the cross for us, but we celebrate that at Easter. Not Christmas.”
“Without Easter, there would be no Christmas. Even the Magi understood the significance of Christ’s death. What were the three gifts they brought?”
“Gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
“Do you know what myrrh is?
“I think it’s a perfume or a spice.”
“Myrrh was the spice used for dead bodies. Not exactly the gift for a newborn. Yet they knew that his death was important. If Christ had not died on a cross to forgive you and me, we would not have anything to celebrate at Christmas or Easter.”
“Yeah, now I get it and I like how simple the display itself is.” I had to admit, once I understood, it was the best display ever.
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