“This is a Thanksgiving house,” a niece said one year as we gathered around the hearth and table for our extended family celebration. That warm remark has resonated with me over the years: Thanksgiving, really like Christmas, but without the gift preparations that can truly take a bit away from the sheer joy of it all. And our home a sweet place for such a time—how good is that! But that was then and this is now. As Thanksgiving approaches in Canada this weekend, we’ll be recalling yesteryear celebrations, perhaps trying not to focus on the differences this year brings.
Early morning fog blankets the world. Is it a shroud, like the heaviness that we might feel as we approach a season unlike the festive ones we’ve enjoyed in the past? Or is it a canopy, a soft blanket protecting our memories and our hope?
A few evenings ago my immediate family circle celebrated the beginning of Sukkot, the biblical Feast of Tabernacles or Shelters. As we made our preparations, I contemplated again the first time we did so some years ago. I recalled so vividly the wondrous moment when I put my head back and gazed up through the mini-forest of cut bamboo branches decorating our backyard deck: up through the swaying green fronds into the deep blue autumn sky before sunset, and came awake with this startling thought. “So, this is Sukkot,” I pondered. “So this is why the Israelites were to build booths to dwell in for a week. They were to begin to understand this amazing fact: that the God of the universe had come to tabernacle with them, to dwell with them.” And somehow in that split second the cosmos opened in my heart, even more profoundly in that instant than each lovely Christmas year after year. This God, yes, this God has come to tabernacle with us, with me, now, always. Christmas in October—Christmas always.
This year, a cooler Sukkot evening, we brought bamboo branches indoors, and their greenery rose up to the ceiling from which we had hung white lacy curtain fabric. The gauzy netting floated above the dining table, enveloping us as we sat at our meal: we were under a gossamer canopy. Our traditional homemade white paper Christmas stars floated overhead, each cluster ruled by an angel. We named the pink one the archangel Michael (“Michael can handle pink,” someone said), the white one Gabriel. The lights of the crystal chandelier transformed the curtains into a wedding-like bower, a delicate reminder of heavenly presence, even of the Marriage Feast to come.
Maybe the Lord Jesus really was born during the Feast of Tabernacles. Makes sense. That the God who came to dwell with us would be as precise with His calendar as in all other things. But whether we think of His birth especially on December 25th or in the autumn, let’s focus on the miracle itself: He has come to tabernacle with us, to be with us. No matter what, He is with us in all things, blessing us in the midst of trials, working through all things so that we can enjoy Him forever.
For some of us, this Thanksgiving will be different. For others of us, we have never known a Thanksgiving or Christmas family and friends celebration. Either way, the Lord has come to dwell with us and so make all things well. At this time, in the absence of what we have had before, or have never had, perhaps His presence may be even more keenly felt. That He himself is our Shelter, our Home.
My friends, it’s Christmas in October—and any time—because He came, and that makes all the difference.