Recapturing the Lost Wonder of Christmas

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The tree and its collection of unique ornaments that would rival a Macy’s window creation remains packed away in boxes.  The lights and animated reindeer that was part of a Griswold-esque lawn display is hibernating in storage. Except for a Hallmark movie or a rerun of an old holiday classic on TV, there is little evidence that Christmas is just a couple weeks away.

There is an unexplainable magic and wonder that ushers in the Christmas holiday. It takes us back in time to when things were simpler, more genuine-where Peace on Earth seemed attainable and the very best of human nature surfaced ever so briefly so that all the world was better because of it.  For many this annual euphoria still exists and is eagerly anticipated and welcomed like an old friend you only see once each year. But sadly for others the season is anything but joyful.  Silent Night becomes just that, silent. Old carols become seasonal haunts leftover from Halloween like the Ghost of Christmas Past except unlike the Dickens story there is little hope of redemption given to its chosen victims. While there is no real evidence that the rate of suicides is elevated during the holidays, it can’t be denied that depression is all the more apparent and intense when you are alone or coming off a particularly cruel year of trials. The hope is that like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life we can find our way through the muck and mire of mental games just in time to celebrate but many will carry their depression on into the new year. Just like the Grinch, someone snuck in during the night and stole our Christmas.

Christmas is the ultimate time for sharing-a dance to a familiar carol, a gift to someone not expecting it, your love with that special someone, memories of past years with old friends, the celebration of an Incarnate baby savior. However when those opportunities to share are removed due to loss of income, loss of health, the death of a spouse or loved one, divorce or separation, the vehicle used to share the holiday is rendered useless, out of order, incapacitated, leaving one feeling lonely and nothing resembling Merry. It is during these times that we as believers in Christ, the Christmas miracle, have to rely on the true focus of the Christmas celebration and recreate our own miracles. It is only through our ability to see and recall the Babe in the manger that we have a chance of recapturing the wonder we so long for at this special and holy time of year.

I have always believed in my heart that the reason Christmas is so wondrous is that God opens up Heaven and releases just a little bit of the holy residue that covered the earth those two thousand years ago on that special night when Christ the Son became flesh and stepped into the world He Himself created. It was the ultimate gift, the epitome of love that the Son of the Most High would enter this world through extraordinary means on a journey He knew would end on a cross. He didn’t come here to turn water to wine, to feed thousands with a few fish or to leave behind quotes that make for good wall plaques. Christ the Christmas miracle came with the objective and divine plan to willingly lay down His life as a once and for all sacrifice that afforded us redemption, reconciliation to the Father and a blessed hope of eternal Christmases in an everlasting Kingdom where sadness, loneliness and depression are forever banished. It is a kingdom according to Revelation where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for these things will have passed away-forever!”  It is a miracle beyond our human comprehension or explanation. It is the truest essence of Christmas! It remains the wonder of Christmas, if we can but set our sights above the trials and despair of this troubled world.

It would be a bit cruel to identify the problem without offering suggestions on where to go from here.  Lest I be like the TV commercial where I just monitor a problem (“there’s a problem”) here are some things that work for me. I love holiday lights.  There is something about colored lights glowing in the dark that just make you feel good inside.  I recall as kids my brother and I counting light displays on our way to church-a great memory. So now, I go out of my way to take in light displays.  And instead of the same old TV fare I switch over to an old Christmas show or a Hallmark Movie.  Yes, I still watch Frosty, Rudolph and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It takes me back 50 years to an innocence I cherish, even if there are those days when I resemble Bergermeister or the Grinch. And who doesn’t enjoy the classic holiday songs that accompany Christmas.  Whether it is taking in a concert by Trans Siberian or a local church production, you can’t possibly walk away without at least a tinge of Christmas spirit. One more great remedy for holiday blues is to find a cause, a charity, a need you can adopt to help bring a little Christmas wonder to others who may be feeling just as left out.  It is amazing the healing properties of adopting a family at Christmas or providing a tree or a dinner or a few unexpected toys.  Their joy is infectious and you can’t help but catch the bug if anywhere near. But perhaps the greatest therapy of all is to seek out Church services billed as Christmas celebrations so that the heart, the meaning and the purpose of our celebration is driven home into our depleted spirit so our focus can be redirected to the source of all wonder, the Christ Child, The Prince of our Peace, God with us, the perfect gift for all occasions that like the Jelly of the Month Club from Christmas Vacation, just keeps on giving.  Let the peace of God, which according to Philippians 4 “transcends all understanding”, all hurt, all depression, all loneliness, guard your hearts and minds in the Christ Child.

If you are hurting and not looking forward to the holidays this year, I encourage you with these words and the sincerest of prayers to kneel before the manger and ask for the peace, the comfort, the healing from the source of all celebration and the subject of our reverence, Jesus. Christmas this year may look a little different than in years past but our Father Who is the same yesterday, today and for all Christmases to come will rekindle the holiday flame that may be extinguished so that you can once again warm up to that lost wonder that is Christmas.

 

 

 

 

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My Life as a Christmas Tree

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For nineteen years now I’ve been putting up our Christmas tree.  It’s a daunting and physical task and it takes the better part of a day, sometimes two days to complete it. Yet each year it’s a ritual I truly welcome and look forward to for many reasons, but I think this year something occurred to me while putting it up.  I think me and this old tree are a lot alike, I just never saw it before now.  Allow me to elaborate.

When people see our tree for the first time they are moved-it’s a beautiful creation. But being the one who puts it up each year I see the things no one else sees, the flaws and imperfections that are covered by the decorations. Only I know the work it takes to cover or make up for these imperfections so that they will not be noticed by others.  First, some of the limbs are getting old and are difficult to bend back into place. A few of the hinged limbs have fallen completely and are held up by wire I used that no one else can see. The tree has also lost many of its bristles.  Having nearly two thousand tips it’s hard to notice bald spots but when you put the tree up and then take it down you can fill a vacuum bag with fallen bristles.  I can relate.

Ours it a pre-lit tree with  built-in lights. However, through the years many of the lights have faded and some don’t work at all. This year there was a new section void of any light at all and I had to insert a new string of lights to compensate for the dark areas. I replaced the fuses of the bad lights but nothing I did seemed to be enough  to get the old lights working again. Yet with all that is wrong with our tree the base in which the tree stands remains sturdy and secure and the tree is safe from total collapse for now. Again, I think I can relate.

The ornaments used to dress up the tree are a plethora of pieces collected during the nineteen years of the tree’s existence and represent quite the array of diversity and change. The  plain, simple but sentimental ornaments from that very first tree as well as the strands of colored beads are still displayed on the tree now and are among the first things placed on the tree each year. They may not be as appealing or noticeable as some of the newer or more expensive ones, but they will never be replaced because of what they represent and the memories associated with them. Some of the ornaments are imprinted or engraved with certain important dates from years past for our recollection. Some are one-only ornaments, hand-crafted by artisans as unique and irreplaceable. Others are a bit more common but necessary in helping to maintain the theme of the tree. Some of the ornaments we picked out together and we can recall when and where we acquired them, and others I chose myself along the way to enhance the appearance and add to the creation.

Then there are the silk florals, the “never die” roses. There must be close to one hundred of them, and they are the last things to go on the tree. I use them to fill in the bare spots where no ornaments exist. I take a few steps away from the tree so I can get a better perspective.  Any area I deem as void gets one of these roses to help cover the otherwise bare branch. There are some years when it’s hard to find those void areas and there are a few years when the bare spots are quite obvious. The simple insertion of a rose makes the tree much fuller.

The last thing to go on our tree is our angel who we named Hope from the onset. The tree isn’t complete until Hope takes her place on top, surrounded by a host of smaller angels just below her.  And just like the rest of the tree Hope has had to be restored through the years. One year she lost her harp, her music. Another year it was her wings that had fallen off and had to be restored. Although the tree is sturdy and straight, some years it is more difficult to get Hope to remain upright without leaning or falling off all together. Because she sits so high on the eight-foot tree she is the hardest thing for me to reach and maintain-it’s a real stretch for me touch her at times and straighten her, but the tree isn’t complete until Hope is established and secured.

At this point our tree is finished and ready to be enjoyed once again.  There is just one final step in the process. You see, as pretty as the tree is, the true magic doesn’t happen until I flip the switch and the lights come on. It is the light that brings the creation to life. Each ornament, simple or ornate changes under the glow of the lights. All the shadows of the tree are chased away by the light. All the imperfections and flaws that only I know about and work so hard to make up for, a seemingly impossible task at times, are hidden once again as the light reflects on the good parts of the tree to such an extent that the bad areas are barely noticeable. It’s the light that transforms the dark spots into a magical wonder fitting for the cover of a high end catalogue, a wonder that is the envy of many who view it.

So now you can see my life as a tree. Our tree has changed significantly over nineteen years.  It’s not the same tree it started out as, though much of what made the first tree so special remains on it today. And it’s likely not the same tree it will be years from now as we continue to add things to it, but it’s our tree, full of memories, imperfections and light. Just like the little tree in Charlie Brown’s Christmas, it may not seem like much at first, but with a blanket of love and some well placed lights it has become a holiday legend.  My life, our tree.  I think I’ll keep it a little longer.