My Facebook feed is filled with Santa’s and Sonograms” – this was my recent response to someone who asked me how I was doing. That may seem like an odd response, but as Christmas approaches many of my friends have been posting pictures of their children with Santa. And for whatever reason, it seems that 2016 will be another baby boom in my friend group – so sonogram photos are also sprinkled between smiling or crying Santa visits. These images sit in stark contrast to my desk, which is filled with sermons to write and services to plan. Santa’s and sonograms flooding my friend stream make me feel strangely lacking when the American holiday season starts. As a singleton, the Advent season makes sense, but not the Christmas season.
I do currently have a five-foot-something Christmas tree in my home. I know this isn’t an oddity for most of you. I, however, don’t have a family and am currently between roommates; so having a beautiful holiday decoration seems like an oddity, like it belongs in someone else’s home. I wasn’t planning on having a tree this year, but I wanted to support a baseball team from a local high school – so when one of the players asked me at church, I ordered what I thought was a table-top tree. I was planning a clergy gathering luncheon at my home, so a little Christmas cheer seemed fitting and fun. I love decorating and I love hosting. You can imagine my surprise when a giant tree showed up instead of the planned table decoration. Okay, the tree is not ‘Rockefeller’ giant, but I am 5’4 so this tree seems big to me. I drove home with it in my Mini Cooper with the top down, sprinkling pine needles all over town.
I then went on an epic search for a tree stand. They were sold out at three stores, but I finally found one at Target. I hurried home, afraid the tree was dying on my patio from thirst, and I was afraid it drying up would single-handedly kill Christmas. I rushed home and pulled out all the Christmas decorations that I own, some really cool burlap I would use to create a skirt, and a DIY ribbon for the top. The tree would be rustic, creative… me.
I called a few people to see if anyone wanted to help decorate my tree with me. Decorating a tree alone seems anti-tradition, and frankly a little sad. It seems like something the lead character in a romantic comedy does before the strapping young man shows up with just the right tree topper. Spoiler alert: this wasn’t how my afternoon turned out. I only called a few people because tree decorating seems strangely intimate as you meander down memory lane with the decorations. Everyone is busy this time of year, so no one took me up on the offer. So with a glass of mulled cider, I began the task of putting up the tree.
My heart hurt a little as I remembered how I usually put a tree up with my parents every year, even after I moved away. We would drink red wine and laugh at all the horrible ornaments my brother and I made and still demand are put up. We usually took a long time decorating – a whole afternoon – but it was a sacred time. Time that I will always treasure. Living so far from home gets harder around the holidays. I had hoped by now that I would have my own family to begin traditions with, but alas, for whatever reason, my family consists of me and my dog – and his lack of opposable thumbs makes decorating hard.
I was alone trying to get this darn tree to stay straight – no one has ever shared with me that tree-straightening is actually an art form! I finally thought I got it right and was trying to put water in the bottom, when the tree came crashing down on my head. It took out two of my favorite ornaments on it’s way down. I don’t know what came over me, but I just took a deep breath and exhaled the word “fine.” This was a ‘fine’ that indicated I had given up. The only thing that was festive was the Christmas music station I had put on trying to get a little bit in the holiday mood.
I discovered the tree stand was actually damaged. I was eventually able to get another stand two stores later, and with a throbbing head, I finally got the tree up and decorated. But the afternoon was far from a holiday dream. The knot is no longer on my head, and I do enjoy the glow of the lights from the tree at night, but it got me thinking. Even as a pastor, this season is a hard time. I am reminded that all the tinsel and beautiful decorations are not what makes the season so wonderful. What make the season so wonderful is that God knows what it feels like to have a broken heart. Sure, a tree may not have fallen on his head, but Jesus knew what it was like to be a stranger in a strange land. And so this may not be the perfect hallmark holiday, but it is one that reminds me that God knows what this feels like.
I,too,think back to the days of Silver Bells and the garlands stretched across Michigan Avenue for several blocks. And then I remember the days in mid-ocean or in the Arctic. The highs and lows of Christmas. Those days fade to the days of being a young family and the excitement of taking gifts around the neighborhood and ending up at midnight Mass. I look forward to the midnight Mass more each year now than in former years. With the (seemingly) advancing speed of the seasons, this is a constant that rings with the same personal joy. This ‘family’ continues changeless through the years. I wish you a kernel of that same ‘personal joy’ to hold onto at this time of year. YOU are loved!
Thanks, Sarah. I loved the comment that what makes Christmas wonderful is that God knows what it’s like to have a broken heart…
Jesus came to heal broken hearts and set people free. That’s the Spirit of Christmas.