Growing up, mail during Advent was a really big deal to our family. We received lots and lots of Christmas cards, filled with those goofy family letters, beautiful pictures of Jesus, and thoughts about His birthday. I remember sorting through the evergreen and cherry envelopes, recognizing some senders by their distinct handwriting, giddy to know the latest news.
During the days of expensive long distance, of no Facebook, email, or texting, yearly letters brought actual news: we moved this year! we had a baby this year! Our youngest got married!
Or, they carried the absence of actual news, but of much-implied news. I remember one family whose husband/father was MIA from the letter that year. We later found out he had left them all for a new wife.
Or the letter that didn’t specifically mention both kids had dropped out of college, but it did proclaim the daughter was now married with a two-month old baby and working full-time while their son now worked on an oil barge six months of the year.
It must have been painful for the left-behind wife to write that letter. Just like it must have been awkward for the mom whose kids had left college to update family and friends on the year they had been through. I’m guessing both women would have rather skipped Christmas cards that year.
But wasn’t there a greater good in the process of writing those Christmas letters? In sifting through the year of pain and wreckage to focus on the happy spots, to distill that year down to a coherent letter? To send out a picture of their new version of family?
The process must have helped, to get all the changes down on paper, even when neither letter actually mentioned the changes. Even better, what a gift that each woman could stick those letters into beautiful cards that celebrate the hope of the Christmas season.
In 1998, our first married Christmas, M and I sent out Christmas cards with out own goofy letter.We had real news (we got married! bought a house! adopted two dogs!). It was therapeutic to sift through the busy, exciting year to pinpoint the highlights. Sharing those highlights closed out the year on the happy note of “God is good!” Sending those sentiments to our far-flung family and friends connected us together, even when we missed them.
Now I look back on the pictures we sent that year in wonder. We were so proud of our house and two dogs. But, oh my goodness, we look about twelve years old.
In the past 15 years, Christmas cards have evolved almost as much as they had evolved over the prior 100. Pictures of Jesus’ family have been replaced by family’s snapshots. Shutterfly and Snapfish crank out millions of signatures from families across the world so no one has to actually sign their cards. Or, heck, address them. Tweets and status updates have replaced goofy Christmas letters.
My 1980’s era family wouldn’t recognize the Christmas greetings our family sends out today, bearing almost no family news, no nativity scene, and none of our actual handwriting.
Because of all this, you might find Christmas cards in the digital age to be a gigantic waste of time. What is the POINT of painful, posed Christmas pictures when you post a dozen pictures to Facebook every week? Why send news at all when everyone you know is updated minute-by-minute about your struggles and victories via Twitter or texting or both?
Yes, Christmas cards are a pain. Yes, there are more pressing expenses this time of year. Of course they take time that you could use updating your wall or trolling Instagram.
But the process of sending Christmas cards is important.
Stepping back from the trees to gaze at the forest is a valuable practice. Almost certainly, this gives you a vantage point to better appreciate how God is moving in your life.
Isn’t that bragging? No.  I honestly don’t know one person who reflects on the year’s accomplishments to bring glory to themselves. Always, this kind of reflection takes the writer by surprise, more than anyone else.
“Wow. So much of my day-to-day life is hectic and riddled with fear and confusion. But, look! There is method in this madness. The important parts are rising to the top. WE ARE DOING THIS! God is blessing us. Why didn’t we notice that before?”
This is not even to say how important the documentation of a family is. If you’re not a scrapbooker or blogger, BY ALL MEANS, gather your family together for a Christmas Card picture. In twenty years, you’ll be so glad to have an archive of your son’s sweater that was clearly too big on his narrow shoulders. Or how fun their dad was to convince all the kids to punk their mom by making silly faces in her serious picture. Or, how the youngest in your family is such a straight man, he just can’t break the rules and be that silly.
Then upload those ridiculous, imperfect pictures to your favorite card-making website. Slap a Jesus is Born! message onto the cards.  Find the addresses of your family and friends, and wish them a merry Christmas.
The reflection, the process, the silliness, the evangalism will bring joy to your heart.
More importantly, it will bring joy to the world.
And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

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