I am writing this post while sitting next to our Christmas tree. Typically, our tree is our final act of decorating – when the kids were younger, we did not want little hands tearing off ornaments; now that the kids are older, we did not want to visit the tree lot until everyone was home – but COVID has changed all that with tree shortages and on-line classes. Will the tree dry out and drop its needles as it occupies the Living Room for more than three weeks? It is likely, but for now, I will enjoy its familiar fragrance and its meaningful memories.
As I look at the tree, my eyes first focus on the ornaments. A few of them are pieces of foam or felt fashioned by tiny fingers, taking me back to a time when my children were a bit smaller and their wonder of Christmas was a bit larger. Most of them are commercially produced, whether they are a reflection of a “1st Christmas” (my grown or growing children all wanting their own to be placed highest and centermost) or a reminder of the year we purchased them. There is an ornament from Jeanine’s college days and there will be an ornament, I am sure, from this season of life. Each one serves as a mnemonic device of our time together.
Behind the ornaments are the lights, red and yellow and green and blue twinkles that are just bright enough to illuminate their immediate surroundings. Alone, these bulbs are insignificant, but putting 500 or so together casts enough light to give the room a certain glow. Unlike the ornaments, the beauty and significance of the lights are not in their individual meaning but in their collective impact: at night, just as we are retiring to bed, Jeanine and I sit by the tree, with only its light filling the room, and remark at ‘how lovely are your branches’. It serves as a mnemonic device of our beauty together.
Finally, there is gold garland that, literally and figuratively, ties all the aspects of the tree together. Wrapped around this fragile, living (and dying) evergreen is a cord of shimmering splendor. It makes this ordinary plant something special. I do not typically think about the garland, which I usually regard as a finishing afterthought to my tree decorating, but today I am in a mood to recognize its significance. I consider the garland a glimpse of Christ within the Christmas tree – a touch of royalty surrounding the rustic. This cord envelopes the earthly with the eternal and the ordinary with the extravagant. It serves as a mnemonic device of Jesus, fully human and fully divine.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
I appreciate the tree beside me because it reminds me of God’s blessings, God’s community, and God’s presence. Whether real or artificial – or not even a tree – I pray that there is something near you, as well, that jogs your memory of the goodness of God this Christmas.
During the last four weeks, we’ve been watching “The Great Christmas Light Fight”, an ABC special competition series, where families’ light displays were judged and a champion was announced. Some of the lights at people used were computer programmed, able to show pixilated images. Other families had traditional strings of bulbs wrapped around trees and roof lines. Still others used laser lights, casting a shower of color over their homes. No matter the medium, all the displays were spectacular and each week they put me a bit more in the Christmas Spirit.
All these displays shown on these national broadcasts, as well as the thousands of homes in our neighborhoods with blow-molds of Santa or candles on the windowsills, are reflecting a great spiritual truth. The light of all mankind has entered the world!
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. John 1:4 (NIV)
This simple notion – the light of all mankind entering the world – is profound. Light is powerful and can be useful in disinfecting, guiding, warming, and giving life. Light is comforting (like a night-light in a nursery) and spreads easily (like candles in a Christmas Eve service). Light enables us to see the beauty around us and avoid the dangers that are also around us. Light is a marvelous thing.
At Christmas, we celebrate that the perfect light, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and God the Son, coming down from heaven and communing with us. At Christmas, we celebrate the overwhelming power of the universe choosing to surrender all, accepting vulnerability and limits. At Christmas, we celebrate to presence of the Almighty contained in the frame of a newborn. At Christmas, we celebrate the One who purifies, guides and gives life to finite human beings.
So, celebrate Christmas. Light a candle or plug in a strand of lights.
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 (NIV)