Christmas greetings from Territorial Commander Commissioner Andy Westrupp.
The letterbox that stood at the bottom of the drive to my childhood home was built to last. And it has! The last time I drove past the old address it was still there, unchanged by everything that many seasons have thrown at it.
My father had fastened the over-engineered copper-clad letterbox between two concrete fence posts that were themselves concreted into the ground. Any poorly-navigated milk truck, delivering the milk in bottles in those days in the gloomy pre-dawn hours, would have come off second best to that letterbox if there had been a collision. It wasn’t going to budge an inch.
I describe the sturdiness of the letterbox purposefully because one of my childhood Christmas memories is of standing on that letterbox on warm December evenings so I could see the Christmas lights that our city council had strung onto a giant redwood tree that stood beside to the Church Steps in our town. To me, the multi-coloured lights were a herald of the enchantment of Christmas.
Another enduring Christmas memory I have of those distant December evenings was of The Salvation Army Nelson Corps Band, all bravely perched on two wooden forms that were tied onto a flatbed truck, touring the streets in our valley playing Christmas carols. We lived on a very steep street, so when the driver of the carolling truck needed to change down a gear half way up to park near our place, all the members of the band had to quickly pitch forward in unison to avoid being accidentally jolted off the back of the truck onto the road.
Our family weren’t Salvationists—or particularly religious for that matter—so for me the band playing carols, tunes I had heard on the radio or learnt at school, uniquely connected me to the real Christmas story: the one of the heavenly prince, born in a manger on a starry night with cattle lowing and angels singing, ‘Noel, Noel!’ There was something very special about those moments as the timeless beautiful carols floated in the air and echoed down our valley.
These days, it is not always possible to sit on the back of a carolling truck, the absence of seatbelts alone is enough to launch the health and safety people into elliptical orbit, so different methods of celebrating the Christmas story have had to be found.
Many of our Salvation Army centres have developed and offer Christmas Eve services where the story of Christmas is retold with drama, carols, multimedia, lighting or tableaux. These have proved popular, judging by the number of people who turn up to the services. Whenever I attend one I am always delighted by the presence of children, because I can see their wonder and curiosity as the story of a special baby—born so long ago in a far distant land, in very humble circumstances—changed the world and is still changing how people live out their lives today. And so, I get to relive my own enchanted Christmas memories of long ago.
This ethereal aspect of Christmas is not something new. Right at the start, a group of shepherds who had been tending their flocks on a hillside recounted their experience of hearing the news of the birth of Jesus in terms that were transcendent. They said that angels appeared to them near the time of the birth of Jesus and spoke of ‘glory in heavens and peace on earth’ (Luke 2:14). These words, to me at least, seem very un-shepherd-like. Instead, they seem to speak of the deep spiritual impact of their experience of the first Christmas.
My prayer for you and your loved ones this Christmas season is that you would also have an opportunity to pause and experience the eternal aspect of the birth of the Christ child. God be with you—and have a blessed Christmas.