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FIRST-PERSON: Remembering the cross at Christmas

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–Festooning home and hearth with lights, garland, mistletoe and other “Christmas” paraphernalia is a long-standing tradition for many. I have participated in the annual decoration festivities, but only mildly.

Rather than go for glitz and glitter or class and sophistication in my decorating scheme, I have always chosen to opt for meaning.

My yearly contribution to the neighborhood kaleidoscope of color has always been rather simple. A couple of weeks before Christmas day, I place an eight-foot-tall cross in the middle of my yard. The cross is wrapped in lights so as to make it visible at night. At the foot of the cross is placed plastic lighted figurines representing Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus.

No other lights have accompanied my display. It has always been a cross and a simple manger scene.

The message I hope to communicate by my display is that the real meaning of Christmas is found only when the manger and the cross are taken together. Without the cross, the manger is meaningless. Of course the lack of many lights indicates my belief that Christmas should be celebrated with simple dignity and not gaudy excess.

Of course, everyone does not always grasp or appreciate my effort to convey meaning at Christmas. One year I cloaked the cross entirely in red lights. It was my attempt to emphasize that the blood of Jesus was shed on the cross to pay for mankind’s sin. A visitor to our home commented that she thought it looked like the flaming cross of the Ku Klux Klan.

I decided that the message I sought to communicate via the red lights was just too esoteric. Hence, they were donated to Good Will.

Others have interpreted my lack of lights as a sign that I am cheap. Among those leveling this charge has been my children. While they understand and appreciate the message of the cross and the manger, they long have argued that God even sent a special star and angels to announce Jesus’ birth, so a few more lights wouldn’t necessarily diminish my intended message.

This year, my children got their wish for more lights.

When we purchased our new home this past summer, little did we know that it was in one of those neighborhoods in which everyone is expected –- err, strongly encouraged, to decorate (and I mean really, really decorate) at Christmas. As December approached, it became clear from conversations with neighbors that dad’s simple but meaningful display was not going to cut it in our new neighborhood.

I was told that Christmas festivities are a “big deal” where I live. I was told that everyone in the neighborhood decorates their homes with luminaries and the displays are simply gorgeous.

“People come from all over the area to drive through our sub-division,” I was told.

When I mentioned that my usual Christmas décor was simple yet meaningful, one neighbor gleefully responded, “Oh, we will be glad to help you.” The zeal in her voice let me know that she was serious.

Upon learning of the high expectations for Christmas decorations in my new neighborhood, I jokingly considered suing my real estate agent for failure to disclose such a vital piece of information. If nothing else, there should have been some sort of clause in the deed — it could even be called the Santa clause — indicating the necessity to adorn one’s house during Christmas.

Rather than risk shunning, I decided that adding a few lights wouldn’t be such a bad thing. So, I have added clear lights that run along the roof line and frame the windows. Our Christmas tree is visible through a double window and our lamp post is ringed with garland and lights. Luminaries have also been added that line the drive and the walk.

However, in the center of the yard is a cross draped in lights and at its foot a simple manger scene — which I hope will communicate the reality of Christmas to those visit our neighborhood. The manger has no meaning apart from the cross.

“There has only been one Christmas,” someone once observed, “the rest have all been anniversaries.”

The observation of Christ’s advent is the anniversary of God’s greatest gift to mankind –- eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Even with the extra lights that seem to accompany Christmas, the cross and the manger should always be the center of our celebrations.
Kelly Boggs, whose column appears each Friday in Baptist Press, is editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message.

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