As tradition has it, around the year 1500, Martin Luther put the first lights on a tree. One clear, cold Christmas Eve, while Luther walked in the woods nearby, composing a sermon, he was awestruck by the brilliance of the evergreens as the moonlight shimmered on the snow-covered branches.
To recapture the resplendent sight, he set up a tree in his home to share his experience with his children. Decorating it with candles, he lighted it in honor of Christ’s birth.
I have come to be just as awestruck at the sight of our tree as Luther was at his and desire to have his same attitude. And for this reason, Tree has become very special to me. Though an artificial object, his beauty represents something much deeper.
Every year after Thanksgiving, we bring Tree up from his long respite in the basement, and we place him in his designated place of honor in our family room. He always seems nude and embarrassed until we, er, uh-hum, I dress him.
Taking his garb from the boxes in storage, I begin to play dress-up. First, I tuck in small dolls and bears close to his trunk, which are barely visible, yet resting securely upon his limbs.
Then, I hang the ornaments, ones that sparkle, are old-fashioned, or made of glass, while others are wooden. Interlaced with snowflakes, bows, white lace angels, stick stars, candles, candy canes, and tiny white lights are others either I or our kids have made, someone has generously given us, or belonged to my mother.
Baby’s breath fills in the gaps and peeks out from among the branches. A red plaid piece of fabric loosely drapes around Tree’s feet, along with the “ancient” crèche, the one I played with for hours when I was very young, arranging and re-arranging Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the wise men, and all the animals.
Encircling Tree is a beautiful plaid ribbon for his garland, and his crowning glory is one special angel: that’s Harold, you know.
When all decked out in his finery, he stands proud, overwhelming the corner of the room. He appears stationed only as a backdrop for the ornaments he displays. He is content to hold them up, to give them the safety of resting on his branches. He seems at peace and oblivious to the blowing snow and chilling winds outside his comfy surroundings.
When the ornament boxes are empty and Tree is laden to capacity, he seems to heave a sigh of relief, as if complete for the season. Beautified and glorious. Abiding in the present. His back to the past. His face to the hope of a better new year.
Sometimes at night, I turn off all the lights in the room except Tree’s lights, and those on the mantle. I sit and stare at Tree’s breath-taking radiance.
As I sit in the glow of the tiny lights, I envision Tree to be, as Isaiah says, that Branch of the Lord, which “shall be beautiful and glorious.” I imagine Jesus standing in the corner, tall and majestic, overflowing the room with His presence. I can almost smell that marvelous fragrance of costly frankincense and myrrh brought at Jesus’ birth.
I picture the ornaments, dolls, and bears as all the beautiful jewels of royal fashioning, the souls that decorate the Lord in different positions of closeness to Him. While some snuggle up next to Him, others perch in varying positions on His limbs, some in close, some out on the fringe. Christ’s sigh of completion comes only when each of His ornaments is in its rightful place.
I visualize the baby’s breath as the restorative breath of God, filling in all the gaps of life. The lights symbolize the light of Christ coming into the world and illuminating the objects of His love hanging around Him.
The garland of plaid ribbon depicts the adornment of the Holy Spirit, wrapping around the body of Christ, holding us all together. Sprinkled in among the ornaments sit more angels, reminding me that He gives His angels charge over me, to keep me in all my ways.
Then, there is Harold, the angel sitting atop it all, always looking toward the New Year. No matter what has happened in the year drawing its last breath, he seems to point to the peace of a better future.
As I sit in the dark, I bask in the warmth and love our Tree gives me, whether there are presents at his feet or not. I smile in acknowledgement of his beauty and he seems to smile back at me, as if to say, “It’s okay. Next year will be better. I will live in your heart, for I am evergreen.” And that speaks to me of eternal life.
It reminds me of Scripture, “I am living and strong! I look after you and care for you. I am like an evergreen tree, yielding my fruit to you throughout the year. My mercies never fail.” (Hosea 14:8 TLB)
This year, I wish each of you a Tree of your own, a Tree of remembrance. May you stand as Christ, your back be to the contrary circumstances of the year behind, your feet firmly planted in the present, and your heart guarded with the hope of a better new year. May you snuggle up close to the Lord, causing a smile on His face that you are in your rightful place.
May you be filled with peace, joy, and comfort. I wish you a most blessed Christmas.
***I’m sorry this was rather long this time. I couldn’t seem to shorten it.