Where are you finding meaning in Christmas this year?
On our first Christmas, Tricia and I had just moved to the little college town of Newberg, Ore., and money was in short supply. Although I knew we could certainly survive without a Christmas tree, the vacancy in our living room was etching a corresponding hollowness into my sense of the season and in my sense of how things ought to be for us. So I prayed that we might somehow be able to afford one.
I think it was three days later that I was walking home from I-don’t-remember-where and there it was: a Christmas tree of appropriate size, just dumped in the field near the street, tinsel strands still on it, no explanation, clearly abandoned. I paused to survey the scene. Then I stood it up, walked around it and after I was satisfied that it approximated the answer to my prayer, shouldered it and walked the rest of the way home. In lieu of decorations, our first tree ended up wearing scarf, hat, mittens, plus a few stuffed animals nestled in its branches. The whole effect carried meaning for me.
Some of you are nodding your heads at this point, affirming that the meaning of Christmas is to be found in simple things, rather than the commercialization of Christmas; romanticizing about the kind of blessings money can’t buy, getting your Christmas glow on and affectionately visualizing Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. I salute you. I must also interrupt the glow to warn you: that’s not actually where I’m going with all this.
That evening, as I explained to Tricia the magic of God’s faithfulness in terms of a dead evergreen in our apartment, I was dismayed to find that her thoughts were moving in a different direction. She was unsure as to why I would drag something that had been abandoned in a field into our home. She wondered if it might carry disease, bugs or some other unpleasant surprise. And I think she hesitated somewhat at the idea of showcasing someone else’s garbage in our living room. She was not excited, but she was loving. The tree stayed.
Looking back, I get it now. Both of our perspectives made perfect sense. And for me, it’s no longer the tree that is meaningful in this story, but the tenderheartedness of God in providing it and Tricia’s willingness to bypass her own perspective in order to bless me in the middle of mine… both compounded by a quarter-century of having seen more of the same.
Our affections get tied to the various traditions, events, foods and practices of Christmas and indeed, most carry a measure of meaning. Enjoy them, but keep in mind that they are by no means universal in their meaning. This is why God began with the most universal of ingredients in providing the backdrop of an impoverished barnyard scene. This is why Jesus is spoken of with terms of universal clarity when it says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever would believe in Him would not die, but have eternal life.”
Ponder the tenderheartedness of God in sending his son. Consider Jesus’ willingness to abandon his own context in order to bless us in the middle of ours. Let the wonder and the joy begin to swell.