Currier & Ives was America's longest running print establishment, publishing over seven-thousand images covering a span of seventy-three years from 1835-1907. Well over a century later, I wonder how many of us can honestly say we’ve never seen a copied print of a Currier & Ives Christmas card. Long after their shop closed for good in 1907, folks still referenced the joys of an old fashioned Currier & Ives Christmas as if they had actually been alive back when. For them, that was and still remains “the real Spirit of Christmas.”
Christmas has an amazing ability to pull us back into the past, for better or worse, and triggers our flashbacks of emotion. Whatever days of yore that came our way in Christmases past, we tend to relive them. And when we can’t, some of us lament that such a past has now passed. Others of us lament that those days of Christmas past never were for us what Currier & Ives so idyllically transposed. That old ship not only sailed, but did so without us. We of such lament pity that we never really enjoyed an old fashioned Christmas. We strangely grieve the loss of what for us never was nor will be again.
“But no one after drinking the old wine seems to want the fresh and the new. ‘The old ways are best,’ they say.”
That was a quote from Jesus, the Christ of Christmas. It is taken from Luke 5:39.
The author, Luke, placed it in the context of a discussion about how different Jesus and his disciples were from those who followed John the Baptist or the Pharisees. To help understand such a difference, Jesus used the metaphors of the “new bridegroom” and the “new wine.” His Jewish audience easily understood the connection of these metaphors. At their weddings, it was customary for the bridegroom to pour the wine, and to keep it coming.
An added meaning of the “new wine” metaphor for Jesus’s fellow Jews involved God’s indwelling and heart warming Spirit. In way of allegorical meaning, Jesus is the bridegroom who pours out the new Spirit upon his disciples who are then “different” in this way. Yes, they “go on eating and drinking” unlike the disciples of John and the Pharisees, because they act as “new wineskins” instead of the “old wineskins” represented by other disciples. To again quote Jesus, “and no one puts new wine into old wineskins, for the new wine bursts the old skins, ruining the skins and spilling the wine. New wine must be put into new wineskins” (Luke 5:37-38).
But what does this have to do with Christmas?
I wonder if there are not times when we miss the Spirit of Christmas because we’re looking for an old one we can’t seem to find instead of awaiting the new wine (or new Spirit) Jesus pours out for all who have new wineskins. How many of us are waiting for the old wine with our same old wineskins? Are we maybe hoping for the old wine of Currier & Ives to return so we can catch that same old Christmas Spirit?
Some of you may be familiar with a story written of in John’s Gospel featuring Jesus turning water into wine. Similar context. There was a wedding in the village of Cana. The bridegroom could not keep the wine coming. The guests, you might say, had lost the Spirit. All the old wine was gone.
Jesus supplied that bridegroom not just with the same old wine as before but with a new and far better wine.
Is it possible we’re expecting the Spirit of Christmas to be the same as before, or maybe not quite as good? Is it possible we’re waiting, to borrow Christ’s metaphor, with old wineskins for the old wine to be poured? If so, then there’s a lesson we might learn in these days of Advent having to do with starting a new collection this Christmas. Receiving the new wine of Christmas from the new bridegroom, Jesus Christ, as he pours his New Spirit into our new wineskins.
Currier & Ives went out of business a long time ago. Their old wine is gone.
Get ready for the miracle of a new fashioned Christmas.