Every year growing up, my mother would give me a Mary Engelbreit calendar for Christmas. More than any other gift, I cherished this calendar. I loved flipping through the pages, looking at the beautiful pictures and inspirational sayings and imagining what new events and memories each month would bring during the upcoming year. I often found myself quickly skipping ahead to next year's December page, longing already for that time to be here again.
My sweet husband has continued this beloved tradition for me and has bought me my favorite calendar for all the 13 Christmases we've been married.
This year, I unwrapped the familiar rectangle-shaped gift and smiled as I turned the pages of each month, savoring each illustration as my kids waited impatiently for me to move on to the next gift. That familiar pang of longing and sadness mixed with joy and nostalgia washed over me as I came to the realization that another Christmas had already come and gone, and soon a new year would begin.
Later as I was in the kitchen wiping counters and putting dishes away, my eyes settled on a beautiful little felt-and-wool Nativity set I got from the Christkindlmarkt this year. My heart ached, and I looked around at all the decorations so carefully and lovingly placed around our home. It was the first Christmas celebrated in our new house, and I decided I wouldn't take down the decorations right away like I usually do each year. I wanted to keep them up until after New Year's to make this beautiful feeling last just a little longer.
Then a thought came into my mind: "This isn't the end. It's the beginning."
I pictured in my mind a very anxious Mary and Joseph anticipating the birth of Jesus Christ, and all the preparations that led up to that monumental event. I thought about all the excitement, joy, wonder and celebrating that accompanied his birth, and all that that meant. His birth wasn't the end — it was the beginning. He had a lifetime of miracles to perform, lessons to teach and stories to tell. His life would change ours forever, and his atoning sacrifice would enable us to live with him for eternity, if we choose to follow him.
The end of each year can be a wonderful and magical time, just like the birth of Christ, but it's what comes next, throughout the year and during our lifetimes, that is really exciting. Christmas is not about just one day or even one month, and our happiness and hope shouldn't rely on that single event, either.
I began to think about all the ways I can make each year as exciting as welcoming a new baby into the world. Each of my boys' births was magical and incredible and monumental for me, but it was the hope and anticipation of a lifetime with them that made my heart burst with joy.
Each year has the possibility of miracles and lessons and stories that can change us and bring us closer to Christ. Heartache and sorrow may also scatter across the pages of our year, just as it did throughout Christ's life. But because of him, no matter what we pass through, we can have the hope and reassurance that our Christmases will come again, just as he will. Because of Christ, this is not the end. Every day is a new beginning.