A Norman Rockwell Christmas Eve?
I am in a mixed marriage. My wife is a Douglas Fir Christmas tree person whereas I grew up in a Silver Tip Christmas tree tradition. (If I had only known before saying “I do.”) Compounding the precarious nature of our relationship is the fact that my wife was a Lutheran and I was a Baptist. How our marriage survived is a testimony to the power of God’s grace and the pharmaceutical industry. Over the years we have learned to compromise. For instance, I learned that drinking wine was not necessarily a sin (which sort of spoiled it for me) and she learned that full immersion baptism was pretty cool.
These days, Cindy and I attend one of those contemporary churches that has almost no similarities to a Lutheran or a Baptist church. As for Christmas trees, well, we still argue about that . . . until this year. But before we get to that, some history is in order. As a young couple, we would go up to the wilderness and cut our own Christmas tree. We were fanatical believers that only a real Christmas tree should grace the halls of our home. Anything less was evidence of a general lack of character. In our minds, it simply was not possible to have a warm Christmas experience in our home without a real Christmas tree. But as the years passed, we eventually stopped going to the wilderness to cut our Christmas tree, opting instead to venture into a more urban environment to acquire our real tree—The Home Depot. Here is a typical exchange between Cindy and me when we have narrowed the selection of trees down to two finalists in The Home Depot Christmas tree lot:
Me: I like the slim tree.
Cindy: I like the fuller tree.
Me: You mean the fat tree?
Cindy: Why do you have to be such a male pig?
Me: Maybe it’s my environment. Do you think it hurts the tree’s feelings to call it fat?
Cindy: I doubt it, but I know where to hurt you!
Me to the clerk: We’ll take the fuller tree.
You see, compromise isn’t so bad. Anyhow, after last year’s warm fuzzy exchange in The Home Depot Christmas tree lot, I began to slyly suggest to Cindy that we should consider purchasing a realistic fake Christmas tree. (Yes, I know it is an oxymoron AND a betrayal of my values.) During my research of fake Christmas trees, I discovered that there are fake Christmas trees that look fake and there are fake Christmas trees that look real. Can you guess which trees cost more? Yep, the fake ones that look real cost waaaay more. Naturally, Cindy would only consider the high-brow version. Fortunately we found a realistic fake tree that was deeply discounted. We took it home, set it up, applied our handmade decorations (Martha Stewart would be proud) and flipped on the lights. It was beautiful, and not the least because we didn’t have a single disagreement while trimming the tree. And something even more miraculous happened: I got the same warm feeling looking at that fake tree that I did with all of our real trees. Does that make me a shallow person?
Here’s my point. God shows up during the Christmas season in some unexpected ways . . . if we step up and invite him (yes, we humans can actually influence whether God shows up). A few years back, Cindy and I were visiting family in Deer Park, Washington. On Christmas Eve our family members invited us to attend their Catholic Church for a special service. I was a little hesitant because my faith tradition has often been a bit dubious towards Catholicism. But Cindy and I went with an open heart and a spirit of anticipation for the service that night. The parking lot was packed to overflowing. It had begun to snow, but not just any snow. It snowed those big fat snowflakes that fall so elegantly to the ground. A hush descended with the snow. Families walked inside and crowded into the pews, and nobody seemed to care that we were packed in like sardines. Stillness fell over the congregation. The worship music was so exquisite and spirit-filled I thought I would break down in tears. The priest preached a traditional message about Christmas and invited all the children to come forward and sit on the steps of the altar. He asked them questions about Christmas and Jesus. Some of their answers sparked chuckles from the adults, as only children can do. I felt the powerful feeling of community among the congregation but I also felt God wrap me up like a warm blanket that night. It was one of the most holy moments I’ve experienced in all my years of attending church. It was like something Norman Rockwell would envision.
I pray that every believer has this experience with God and his people at least once, or many times in their life. Don’t place limits on God and He may just surprise you. Cling to Christ, cherish your family and love others. These things will lead you to peace, joy and even happiness. But there is one thing that is often left out of this equation: to love justice. In other words, strive to live ethically. We will not always succeed, but that is ok. Justice is an essential element in achieving the peace, joy and happiness that is part of the promise of Christmas.
Have a merry Christmas!