For years I did it — again and again, much to my kids’ embarrassment. Shopping for a Christmas tree, I would spot the scrawniest tree in the bunch, paid my $15.00 and haul it into the trunk of my car. I couldn’t help it, I’d tell my kids. It was no fun buying a perfect tree and covering it with perfect ornaments. It was more challenging and way more satisfying to make a scrawny tree look like the most beautiful one from the lot. But I admit, I’m not the greatest decorator either, so my trees would have that scrawny look every Christmas season. Just ask my kids.
But where did we get the idea that imperfect trees have no place to call home at Christmas? The very feast that celebrates a perfect God entering our imperfect world ought to give prime place to scrawny trees and …. scrawny and needy people too. You know, the kind we meet on street corners, or hurry past as we cross the intersection. The other day I noticed the young woman in the line-up at the grocery store: she looked tired and the light in her eyes had dimmed. My scrawny Christmas trees are affectionate reminders of those who don’t have it all together but whose hearts long to be loved and adorned with care and compassion. And some years, I too rank among those who don’t have it all together.
It is no secret that we continue to lose the connection with the original meaning of the season. Radio and television programs bombard us with commercials while warning about post-Christmas financial hang-overs. Radio hosts speak of the “holiday season” and do-gooders are featured like the entertainment pick of the month. Everyone asks the “big” question: are you ready for Christmas yet? I know what you’re “supposed” to answer, preferably in a hectic tone of voice: no I’m not, too many gifts to buy and wrap, cards to write and to send, goodies to bake and decorations to hang up. I’m not ready!
But I reply: ready for Christmas, absolutely I am. Quiet daily Advent prayer with the lit candles on the Advent wreath – one more each week – keeps me anchored in essentials without drowning in waves of excessive consumerism, not to speak of grounding busy days in a moment of rest. Dreams and yearnings rise up in my heart in anticipation of extra attention by the God who nurtures them in the womb of my spirit. My Christmas baking gets done by loving and competent hands (way more competent than my own!) from annual Christmas bake-sales, filling my freezer while supporting a good cause. Instead of gifts we try to find quality get-away times close to home with our adult children, their loved ones and little ones even that’s getting more challenging every year due to irregular working hours. And yearly donation checks to various charities, however small, have just been written and sent out. Other years and in other places, our preparations have seen us assisting with food hampers and helping out at soup kitchens.
Gravitating towards non-commercial activities at this time of year is good for our mental, emotional and spiritual health, reconnecting us with the original meaning of the season, not to speak of easy on the wallet. In the birth of Jesus God became one of us – that is the most radical and most beautiful message the world has ever received. Divinity came among us as a tiny, helpless baby for whom there was no room anywhere. Born to a young teenage virgin and a dedicated foster father who was forced to take his little family to Egypt to protect the child from brutal murder — not unlike millions of refugees on the run today. A teenage mother, an outcast from birth, a refugee in infancy – that is our God, throwing in his lot with all the scrawny and needy ones among us. Am I ready for Christmas? You betcha, and I like my tree just the way it is.
By the way, a special thank you to Charles Schultz for creating the Christmas Charlie Brown Special (image above). Turns out it is still an all time favourite in its 50 years of existence — see this recent CBC article.
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