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Posted: December 20, 2009 12:30 a.m.

All I want for Christmas

A few years back we converted our family’s old 8mm films to the more modern VHS format, now also obsolete. But at least we preserved our family’s celebrations of Christmas from the 1950s before the fragile films deteriorated completely. One scene shows a plate of Oreo cookies and a tall glass of milk my brother and I left for Santa Claus to have as a snack after his magical climb down our chimney. Off to the side of the cookies is a list of gifts we hoped Santa would leave us for Christmas. Items on the list cannot be discerned from the movie, but scenes from the next morning show us decked out in cowboy outfits replete with chaps, fringed shirts, sporty new holsters and shiny toy six-guns. So it’s a good bet we asked for Western garb worn by Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and other cowboys we frequently watched back in the early days of television.

My wife and I also have volumes of VHS tapes of Christmases with our own three kids through the years, filmed when video cameras were shoulder-mounted and weighed as much as a Sousaphone. Some traditions die hard, and some never do. Even as I type, the stockings my wife made for our kids are hung by the chimney — with care — and you can believe that when those same children who now masquerade as adults arrive to celebrate Christmas, they’ll still hope that Saint Nicholas soon will be there.

Someone a lot smarter than I said the only difference between men and boys are the price of their toys, and there’s probably a lot of truth to that. But there are times when I wonder what it is that guides folks as they put together wish lists. As a social studies teacher I used to wonder if kids, and their dreams, are governed by their socio-economic status. Does a poor kid actually dream of owning a Ferrari or a Gulfstream? Or does the poor kid simply wish for nice clothes and straight, pearly white teeth? And what does a rich kid who has virtually everything ask of Santa?

My own personal wish list started changing a few years ago with the realization that for me the end of this life is much closer than are the good old days which I so fondly cherish.

You might guess, then, that I thoroughly enjoyed "The Bucket List," a film telling the story of two terminally ill old codgers who listed the things they’d always wanted to do and set about completing their lists before kicking the bucket.

With that in mind as I contemplated my 2009 Christmas list, I’ve accepted that I’m too old to fly fighter planes for the Navy, so I won’t ask Santa for flight lessons. Besides, I couldn’t fit into a cockpit now anyway.

I used to want to meet celebrities like Tom Hanks, John Williams and James Taylor, just to thank them for making life so much more bearable and for having been part of our family’s special times, albeit unawares, via their films or music. But I’ve come to realize that stars most likely don’t need my accolades to validate their accomplishments or how they chose to spend their lives. So I won’t be asking Santa to arrange those introductions.

Altruistically, I used to ask St. Nick to bring world peace and an end to famine, pestilence, disease and suffering. But only God can bring peace to this world, and that gift has already been delivered. It’s just a matter of people opening their hearts and embracing the reason for the season, Jesus Christ, as their savior.

The problem is that so many folks never make the effort to examine their condition and thus don’t recognize the difference between the truth of Jesus Christ and other "feel good philosophies." So this year all I want for Christmas is for the entire world to stop and make that effort.

Our old home movies produced flickering images in which people and surroundings fade into and out of clear focus. Despite moments of obscurity, there still is enough light to capture the essence of the moment.

At times, those who seek the truth of Christ may find their way obscured, and wonder if they’re still on the right road.

"There is enough light to illumine the path for those who truly seek," wrote French philosopher Blaise Pascal in the 17th century. "If there were no obscurity man would not feel his corruption; if there were no light, man could not hope for a cure."

There were no video cameras in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago, but a star’s light led the world to Jesus Christ. That light still shines.

Merry Christmas!

Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.

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