I love the Christmas season. I always have. I took my family to a local Christmas tree farm to cut down our own tree this year. Any other time of year the errand would’ve seemed a nightmare. Who wants to stand out in the cold looking over a bunch of evergreens trying to find the one with the smallest bare spots, only then to wrestle it back to your car, drag it through your front door, and spend an hour getting it set up and adjusted to look just right? But in spite of the hassle, I do love the Christmas season. The lights and smells. The nostalgic feel of Christmas music. My kids’ cold noses on my warm neck and my wife standing under mistletoe. And even though I think it’s sad that marketers have found ways to package Christmas and cheapen it by doing so, I still look forward to giving and receiving brightly wrapped gifts on December 25th. There is a romanticized quality in December that I haven’t found anywhere else in my calendar.

I do, however, think that Christmas brings with it a need to be cautious. While the family gatherings and cultural traditions are full of nostalgia and merriment, I’ve found that I need to be careful about how I understand and appreciate the birth of Christ. For 39 Christmases now I have been hearing the story of a baby in a manger. I have set up nativity scenes and sung the Christmas hymns. I even learned to pronounce the names Augustus and Quirinius from an early age. But at some point in my life, I think the romanticism of my American Christmas overpowered the reality of the Roman empire. I’m afraid Luke chapter 2 became more of a prop in Charlie Brown’s Christmas special than the introduction of my Savior and King. I don’t think it was bad that the story became familiar, but perhaps that it became too cozy. Roman spears aren’t really tipped with felt and baby boys really can be murdered. When I think about it as a husband and father, fleeing to a foreign country in the night with my wife and newborn baby doesn’t sound as pleasant as sipping cocoa and watching the snow fall.

I remember a time when I was in high school that something wasn’t quite right with the way I felt about Christmas. It had kind of “lost its magic”. The romanticism had begun to fade for me. I was starting to think that Christmas was for little kids and that I had outgrown it. And I guess I was a little bit right. I had outgrown Christmas, or at least the way I was used to celebrating it. I was too big to write to Santa or open up toys on December 25th. The whole concept starts to look like it’s meant for kids and then when you’re too old, it’s about remembering the holidays of your youth. How things used to be. Being nostalgic about the past.

It wasn’t until a few years later that Christmas started stirring something deeper in my heart again. Some breath came over the dying embers and they began to glow a little brighter. And the odd part about it was that it didn’t happen in December. It wasn’t time to hang lights and snow wasn’t anywhere in the forecast. It really had nothing to do with nostalgia or the cozy feeling of Christmas. Very simply it had to do with Christ. It had to do with me coming to love and appreciate the person of Jesus. And when I started learning to love Jesus, the flesh-and-blood Jesus, his story as a baby fascinated me. In fact, it moved me. And it wasn’t because I had never heard it. It was because I never put it into the grit and grime of reality. When the story had become romanticized, it lost its relevance. But when I read about the birth of Jesus in its backdrop of reality, I realized that Christmas isn’t about wishing for past Christmases and simpler times. It’s about a new beginning. And for me that changed the way I celebrate. The birth of a savior isn’t just cute, it gives a thrill of hope. It gives a weary world every reason to rejoice.

I’ve heard people describe their own process of “losing the magic” of Christmas. It’s usually adults, but lately I’ve been hearing it more from students at my school too, which I think is very sad. It makes their youth seem to fade. Or maybe it’s their hope. Either way, I know the answer is not to watch more Christmas movies and decorate more trees. Those can be great things and I look forward to the Christmas traditions every year, even more so now that I have kids to share them with. But I know it’s not the solution. If you ever wonder why we go to the trouble of celebrating December 25th, I think the only answer that can give true joy, year after year, for the rest of this life and the life to come is, “because it’s the birth of our king.” I hope all of my students have a merry Christmas, but not just because they get the presents they want. I hope it’s because they learn to celebrate the King that they need.

Timothy Casey, Ed.D, 5-8 Principal, New Covenant Academy (Springfield, MO): I follow Jesus and I want to follow him more closely every day, until I want the things he wants, think the thoughts he thinks, and act the way he acts. I want to help other people follow him this way too. I am married to the woman of my dreams who has sharpened me and made me stronger since the day I met her, and she has done it with grace and compassion. Together we have three kids who I love to watch grow into who God made them to be. Our family loves adventures. Most often we read about or watch them together, but my favorite is when we get to take some of our own. We also have a pretty mean board game collection. I am an educator at heart and was blessed to stumble into this love as a profession. I graduated from Ozark Christian College with a Bible degree and no idea that teaching is what God was going to do with my life. I continued my educational journey by getting a master’s in discipleship ministries from Liberty University. Ironically, I don’t know that I could’ve told you what discipleship ministries were even after I finished (I think I have a better idea now). Finally, after being in Christian education for over a decade without any formal educational training, I decided to take some coursework in educational leadership. This culminated in a doctorate of educational leadership. Now, I hope to bring together the Bible, discipleship, and education in a way that can help teachers lead their students closer to Jesus every day. I share more of my thoughts about education, ministry, and life at discipleeducation.wordpress.com.