Once again our Christmas tree has a few fragile ornaments on it. At one time, many years ago,we would have decorated our tree almost exclusively with fragile glass ornaments. But when our children arrived and began playing around our decorated tree, we gradually replaced the glass ornaments with more durable decorations, ones made of cloth, wood or metal. Now only one fragile ornament has survived from our years before children.
Many of the ornaments now on our tree tell a story about when we acquired them or who had crafted them making them far more endearing than the metal coated glass balls we once had.
Years before Lori and I had our first Christmas tree, my mother would caution my siblings and I especially when we handled a particular fragile glass golden heart that had been my mother’s favorite. Each December she would carefully hang it on an inner branch high above where little fingers might reach and each January we would carefully wrap and stow it away. I am confident that it held for my mother a story more precious than it looked.
We know the story of the shepherds and magi honoring Jesus birth because his mother Mary shared the treasure that she held in her heart.
What stories do your favorite ornaments tell? How will you share this treasure with your family?
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
– Luke 2:19 (NRSV)
Yes, I realize that the social question –Are you ready for Christmas?– merely inquires about decorations, parties, and presents. This question merely opens an opportunity about finding the perfect present for one’s spouse, hiding long sought for games from increasingly inquisitive children, and putting up a display that rivals one’s neighbors. A time to ask: “Would so and so understand a gift of fish that might help build God’s kingdom?”
Yes, I am ready for the rush of worship services that involve children and adults who do not normally participate in worship. For that annual flurry of religious excitement and renewal the planning and writing and recruiting began weeks ago and is now largely in place. Although these events will produce anxieties up until all the candles are extinguished.
But no, I am not ready, at least not on a personal level. Mary’s unplanned pregnancy had troubled her and it had troubled Joseph. News of Jesus’ birth had troubled Herod and all Jerusalem with him, compelling this new family to relocate to a foreign land. The birth of Christ should trouble us unless we are unaware of its significance, like the magi, or have nothing left to lose, like the shepherds. It is like the line in a movie when the bad guy says: “Prepare to meet your Maker!” Or when the final exam proctor says: “Pencils down. Close your test booklets.” Thus the glitter and pageantry distract me from the reason for the season and interfere with making time to ponder: “Where is Christ in all this?”
So, no, I am not ready. I am troubled that God has much service for me to do before I will be ready to sing with Simeon:
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” – Luke 2:30-32 (NRSV)
The Grand Canyon at a glance is both timeless and transient, epic and ephemeral. Its scale proclaims that it will not change, yet everywhere it shows continual change from erosion by wind and water, from plants digging into cracks and people digging paths along its crags. Its geology shows the result of eons of sedimentation and slow erosion of seismic faults gouged into side canyons. The rocks themselves tell a history of a vast inland sea through tiny fossils. It tells of a persistence that exceeds humanity.
This month we celebrate the birth of Jesus; an event according to Matthew that was forty-two generations in preparation, an event that in a few months transformed the lives of Mary and Joseph, an event that changed everything and changed very little. A few months following our Savior’s birth Herod slew dozens of boys out of fear. And two thousand years later our fears still affect how we feed and house the poor. Yet the growth of Christian love shows a persistence that exceeds humanity.
In my own life I have experienced dramatic events that change everything and very little: school graduations, collision at sea, sonars designed, and church ministries. The persistent flow of culture resists change and eventually erases all but the memories of great tragedies and accomplishments and eventually even memories will fade away. But through all these events I also recognize a persistent thread that I trust links these events into a whole that supports the coming of the Kingdom of God into the world.
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
– Jeremiah 29:11