In November I was asked to contribute a piece of writing to a devotional for the Advent season. I gave them this little recollection of a Christmas past that I posted first on December 10th last year. I’m reposting it today. Why? Because it’s about Christmas, I’m lazy, and I can! 😀
Banana Nut Advent
I turned and faced the ring of nine 2nd and 3rd graders (plus one preschooler) assembled around the kitchen table. Looking at them standing there armed with banana nut bread mix and cooking utensils, my first thought was, Oh Lord! In five minutes they’ll have more batter on themselves and the floor than in the bowls! Ignoring my inner misgivings, I fearlessly carried on with my plan to make today a special holiday “memory” for them. (My second thought was, Thank God they’re not all mine!)
I preheated the oven, gave them directions, then watched in amused horror (if indeed there be such a thing) as they raced to see who would be the first to get their batter mixed and into their loaf pan. Melanie got sidetracked digging egg shells out of hers. Tyler couldn’t figure out how his egg had ended up on the table instead of in his bowl. Kelly was scared to crack his. And all Laura-Ann (the preschooler) wanted to do was hit Shauna with the wooden spoon! Brandon, David, Veronica, and Mike were neck and neck coming into the home stretch, and batter was flipping everywhere amidst giggles of delight.
As I moaned inwardly at the thought of cleaning up before the Christmas caroling party that night, I reminded myself for the umpteenth time why I was doing this.
For nearly a month now the neighborhood kids had watched our family’s little advent wreath services in wonder. We’d made it a point to do our devotions early enough in the evenings that they could be present whenever possible. They seemed genuinely fascinated with the little stories, scriptures, prayers, and songs. As they sat on the floor around the glowing candles and manger scene arranged on the coffee table, their eyes wide with wonder, I was aware of how much they were like blank pages of a book just waiting to be written. I longed to be able to write something important on at least one of their pages.
Then one night as we were singing Away In A Manger as our advent hymn, I was surprised to realize that some of them didn’t know even this most elementary of Christmas songs. I wondered if they had any idea what Christmas was even about apart from Santa Claus, reindeer, and presents. Being raised in a Christian home I’d just taken it for granted that everyone grew up with the story of the baby in the manager and the idea that Christmas is really about giving, not receiving. I felt the Lord was offering our family a rare opportunity to let these kids hear that message for what might be the very first time.
That’s why we were all baking banana nut bread, for another important part of our family’s advent tradition was visiting others we knew who were lonely or housebound to pass out plates of banana nut bread and other homemade goodies. Brandon would play his trumpet and we’d sing along to Hark the Herald Angels Sing or O Come All Ye Faithful. This year, I determined, these kids would have a chance to know that other side of Christmas, too. Somehow between the batches of bread while the kids practiced Christmas carols at the top of their lungs, I managed to clean up.
Later, chili and hot dogs for 25 were ready, and kids and their parents began to arrive. We visited over that simple meal and then loaded 13 loaves of freshly-baked, foil-wrapped, ribbon-tied banana nut breads into a sack with other yummy treats, and kids and adults alike set off on a Christmas adventure visiting many in our neighborhood. We rang door bells, sang carols, laughed, froze, and shared childhood memories. And I watched with quiet expectation as the kids argued over who got to give out the extra breads I’d made.
“That one’s mine!” Mike yelled over the singing. “I made it, I get to give it away!” “You gave yours away already!” came two replies. Something wonderful was happening just as I’d hoped it would. For the kids weren’t giving away just any old present, they were giving away a part of themselves, something they’d created with their own hands. And with it came a sense of ownership and anticipation that I’m sure was new to at least some of them.
Back at the house we all settled down in the living room around the advent wreath. Stefanie lit the candles and turned off the lights as Brandon read from our devotional booklet about the great gift God gave us that first Christmas, His Son, Jesus.
With the memory of the bread still fresh in their minds, I prayed the wonder of the Christmas story and the joy of giving would fill their hearts. Quite unexpectedly I think some of the parents there that night were touched by the evening’s activities as well. Perhaps for the first time since they, themselves, were young. Perhaps for the first time ever. After we closed our devotions with prayer, we finished our service by singing Silent Night. Catholics, protestants, Mormons, or nothing at all, they still all knew the words to the song. And I’ve never heard it sung more reverently than it was that night by a bunch of everyday neighbors who needed so much to know God’s greatest gift, Jesus.
There’s not an advent season goes by that I don’t think of that very special time. The kids are are all grown now with children of their own. We see them often as they come and go from the old neighborhood. Sometimes I look at them and wonder if that night was as special as I perceived it to be. I wonder if their lives were touched in any special way, or if it was just my own personal fantasy of wanting to leave a meaningful memory in their lives.
One thing I do know, though. It never fails that when we run into them during the holiday season at least one of them will end up saying to me, “Remember that neat Christmas party we had a long time ago? We ought to do that again!”
Well, maybe we should.