Christmas Eve was a special time for our family, a night of good food, family and a real Christmas tree that towered over brightly coloured packages of all sizes and shapes. There was even a gift for our dog, usually a rubber ball which he always seemed to find, unwrap and chew up before morning. At eleven PM, my family and I would attend a special candlelight church service. I loved watching the sanctuary fill with light as people lit their candles one by one down each row of pews. I remember looking up at my older brother, sister, mom and dad, their faces lit by the warm glow of candlelight.

As a youngster, it was also the one night of the year that was nearly impossible to survive. With snow gently falling outside my bedroom window, I'd feverishly try to fall asleep in the hope that dawn would miraculously break so the gift opening festivities could begin. I can scarcely remember a more wonderful time to be a kid. Christmas was truly magical and though gifts were a wonderful addition to the celebration, my parents always ensured we understood the real reason for the season.

When Christmas morning finally arrived, my dad performed his usual tortuous routine! He would be the first downstairs to turn on the tree lights. My siblings and I were not allowed to follow until he gave us the green light. We'd hear him muttering loudly, "Well would you look at the size of this present!" or "that sure wasn't here when I went to bed last night!" This would go on for a minute or two, leaving us pulling our hair out in wild expectation! Finally he'd give us the all clear and faster than a streak of lightening, we were down the stairs with mom close behind. And I'll confess here and now that I carried forward this fatherly shenanigan with my own three children!

Recounting my youthful Christmas experiences stir my soul to think of Jesus. Gifts under our tree cost money and eventually broke or wore out. Whether clothing, toys, games or whatever; they didn't last. Nothing material on this earth does. But we have a soul that is eternal, and thanks to God's incredible and unconditional love for us in the form of baby Jesus on Christmas morning, we already have the most precious gift of all time! "And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son does not have life." (1 John 5: 11, 12 NIV)
 
I'm glad that God doesn't make us wait at the top of heaven's staircase while He turns on the lights and checks things over before we receive our present. As you prepare for Christmas, be sure to focus your eyes on the stable in Bethlehem, wherein lays a holy infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, a gift to us that outlasts and outshines all others and guarantees eternal life when we put our faith in Jesus the Messiah.
 
Halleluiah and Merry Christmas!

Paul Smyth