What does Christmas mean?

One of my all-time favorite holiday movies is a cartoon video, featuring Charlie Brown as he struggles with this age-old question.

Each year we face the holiday, anxiously waiting the arrival of families coming together, renewing the bonds of friendship with parents, grandparents and siblings, making new memories with children and grandchildren.

I love the aroma of it all. Fresh baked pepper-nuts, fresh cut pine trees, oven roasted turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie: each one evokes memories of Christmases past, and is an invitation of what lies ahead.

This year, traditional aromas mix with pork loin, baked potatoes and a variety of dishes containing various farm raised legumes and a variety of spices, leafy vegetables and green beans.

Our youngest, a 2-year old granddaughter, is an energetic and amazing bundle of joy and activity. She loves to play with balls and dolls alike. The night before, she was intensely watching a hockey game on television, talking like she understood what it was all about. The twins like to run, but she likes any sport involving an object like a hockey puck or a ball.

Each Christmas, we celebrate a wedding anniversary of one of our children, plus, a birthday of a granddaughter. We make time for each event, recognizing the significance and importance to our family.

Each Christmas, we reflect on those that are no longer with us. This year, news from around our community notes the passing of a distant relative. We are also mindful of other events, impacting the lives of close friends and family, through separation and divorce.

To say that life goes on, though true, is insufficient recognition that such things do occur. We not only grieve for the incredible loss, we are mindful in whatever the circumstances we are in, there are people who truly care, and are willing to walk alongside to share the burden.

In a way, the aroma of Christmas mingles with and becomes a part of the aroma of everyday life. The ancient, biblical story of the Christ child could have been written today.

A young family of three flees a middle-eastern country, their lives threatened by the ravages of war and conquest, thanks to the evil scheming of a mad, despotic ruler.

They seek refuge in a strange land: illegal immigrants, if you will, in a strange culture, among a people who are suspicious of your reason for coming there.

When the direct threat to their lives subsides, the family’s return to the land of their ancestry only adds to the mystery surrounding the life and ministry of the man called Jesus. They become subjected to local gossip and suspicion regarding Jesus’ claims of legitimacy as an adult, that he is God, in the flesh.

Though I cannot relate through personal experience as a refugee, I am familiar with being a stranger in a strange land. As a member of a pastor’s family, we moved from one community to another. Each transition into a new area presents new challenges.

As one set of friendships wane, another set begins an awkward dance towards familiarity.

Change is rarely easy, but often difficult, for everyone. Sometimes, resistance to an incoming stranger is too strong, and conflict is inevitable and often an insurmountable hurdle.

If prophets were not welcome in their own hometown, as the saying goes, I can certainly relate to today’s dysfunctional relationships that hinder the growth of friendships.

The birth of the Christ child is but the beginning of the most wonderful story of redemption. Man, in his struggle through life, is stained with sin, of rebellion against God, of pride in himself, determined to do as he wished.

Condemned and awaiting a certain fate, he is unaware that God placed Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, on a path of total sacrifice in order to conquer sin and death for all time.

This sacrifice is the most pleasant of all aromas that one can experience, in the eyes of God.

Thus, the meaning of Christmas, even as we endure all the trials and hardships that comes our way, this message of hope still rings true as much as it did more than two thousand years ago.

Paul Penner, former president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, farms in the Hillsboro area. He has been active statewide and nationally regarding agricultural policy.