A Tale of Two Christmases
Joy To The World
Angels We Have Heard On High
The year was 1969. I was 18 years old and had just attended midnight mass with some friends. After a month of listening to Christmas carols, I told myself this was the last time I’ll ever go to church. I was sincerely looking for the truth but had come to the conclusion that it was not to be found in Christianity.
Christmas carols were just another example of the tradition and the pomp that I had grown up with and now distained. Christmas had become to me, as it is with so much of the world, a merchandising holiday, a time for sales statistics and comparing presents. It had no meaning left for me.
As a child growing up, I loved Christmas like most children do. I loved the gifts, waiting for Santa Claus, even when I knew Santa Claus wasn’t real. Growing up in a large church with lots of pageantry, hearing the carols, and singing them in my grade school choir, and even participating in caroling door to door, I knew them all. They were all fun to hear, and listen to, but other than that they had no real meaning. Now at 18, I’d had a belly full of the traditions of Christianity and was eager to get out on my own and discover what life was all about.
The journey begins
The day after Christmas that year,1969, three friends and I got in a vehicle and started heading south from Minnesota. The first leg of the journey found us driving through a true Minnesota blizzard.
At that time in my life I was what the news media would label a “hippie”, wild and rebellious. The time in history was very tumultuous. With the prospect of being drafted, having a gun put in my hand, being told to kill people I didn’t even know, I desperately wanted to find out what the truth in life really was.
Even though I had given up on Christ and Christianity, I knew there was a God simply by the witness of nature itself, in its glory and beauty. That journey from MN led me to Acapulco, MX, and back to El Paso, TX. At that point I mailed my luggage home, put my thumb out, and began to hitchhike my way to California.
Outside of Tucson, AZ, a car picked me up and a little further down the road he picked up another hitchhiker, named Dale, and we hit it off right away. After spending some time in Venice, CA, we headed for the mountains to see the redwoods. Our home for a short time was a cave in King’s Canyon National Park, where Dale played his flute by a stream while we enjoyed the natural beauty of the forest.
Eventually we went back to Los Angeles County. Dale had gotten some literature from a small church off of the Sunset Strip and he wanted to go and hear what they had to say, but I wasn’t interested. Eventually he won simply because they offered a free meal which sounded good before we left town.
That night I heard the gospel explained as it is written in the Bible for the first time in my life! At the end of the service there was an altar call; Dale went forward right away and gave his heart to Jesus Christ. Even though I knew at some level what they were saying was true, I still did not believe that Jesus Christ actually was the Son of God. I didn’t understand why God would even want to become human. The plan of salvation was completely foreign to me even though I had been raised in a large church.
It was after services, I had talked to a few people and everyone had really given up on me. I was eating the free meal I had come to get. It was then, out of nowhere, my mind was opened and the realization that Jesus Christ is the Son of God was placed there. It felt as though that profound knowledge was a virtual physical object being placed in my brain. I was looking up at the ceiling and I knew that I was having a personal encounter with God. I had always wanted to have a personal experience with God, but this time I truly was having one and was consciously aware of it.
At that point there was nothing left for me to do. I had sincerely been seeking the truth and had found it. I went to the altar, knelt down, and said a simple old-fashioned sinner’s prayer. When I stood up it felt like I had taken a shower on the inside and knew that I had been saved! It was so amazing to me that I could actually feel God inside my body, an emptiness that I had never known to exist, was now filled.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Same songs, new meaning
I remember that year when they began to play Christmas carols again, I was hearing the same songs I had heard my whole life, yet every one sounded brand new. I understood for the first time the meaning of the words that I had sung for years: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining. Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth. (O Holy Night) Remember, Christ, our Savior was born on Christmas day to save us all from Satan's power when we were gone astray, O' tidings of comfort and joy, (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen), Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; (Joy to the World)
How vast was the difference of Christmas 1970 as compared to 1969! It was a new year, I had new ears, a new heart, and I was a new creature.
Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
Luke 2: 10-12