This morning I asked Rebekah what image best represents Christmas for her. She immediately went for our Haitian angel - she's been sitting on our tree for the best part of 25 years now. So I guess I'll have to share that story (If you have already read "In My Heart I Carry A Star: stories for Advent" then you can probably skip today's post):
Have you ever found yourself reclining in your favorite armchair, a cup of coffee poised on your lap, staring at the Christmas tree in the corner and kind of wondering? I mean really, let’s be honest, what exactly is it in the wacky world of interior decorating that makes an oversized dead shrub so compelling?
Think about it. It's a tree; what is it doing in the living room? And then we cover the unfortunate specimen with the most hodgepodge assortment of mismatched paper products, figurines, glass ornaments, party-favors, and angels. We top it off with tacky colored lights and hand-made strings of snack food. What’s that all about?
We talk about our commitment to save the forests, and spend extra money to bring home a “live” Christmas tree. But then we cut it off at the knees, strap it to the wall, plug it into a light socket, and electrocute the poor thing. After a while parts of the tree start to die and fall off all over the rug. By the second week of December any open flame within 50 feet is likely to result in Tanenbaum Flambé.
Somebody help me understand?
Yet somehow, standing there dressed in a kind of horticultural drag, our Christmas trees have become just about the most enduring symbol of the season for families all the way from London to New York to San Francisco.
In our house the tree – or several trees depending on Rebekah's decorating inclination - has become a visual journey into family history, an archeological dig on a stick, evolving over the years into an elaborate seasonal scrapbook pasted together as events and people pass through our lives. Each ornament has its own story to tell, from first-grade handkerchief angels, to the hand crafted ornament purchased in Appalachia when we were expecting our first child, to the sterling silver pine cone given by a generous friend who often shared our celebrations.
Our Christmas tree moves from everyday worldly images such as trains, singing birds and snowy houses up through drummer boys, Santas and nutcrackers - to a sacred host of stars, angels, and Nativity scenes toward the top. When the children were little I remember Andrew proud of his growing but inaccurate vocabulary – loudly informing a guest that our tree had, “Sacred ornaments at the top and ‘sexual’ ones lower down!”
It is that meeting place of the sacred and the secular that makes the Christmas tree such a durable and endearing feature of our holiday homes. It is a place where even the least religious feel compelled to stick an angel on the apex, include a Nativity underneath, or simply place a star near the top. Thus we give voice to the yearnings of all hungry hearts to undertake such a journey as wise people still do today following the star, making our way to public worship, singing carols, or at least pausing in some fashion to acknowledge the newborn king.
Our own "angel" was brought back from a mission trip to Haiti over twenty years ago. She’s a tattered homemade doll purchased on the dirty streets of Port au Prince and initially rejected as “Too ugly to keep as a gift” by my niece. But eventually “Miss Haiti” found her way to adorn the very top of our Christmas tree.
“She represents what God means by Christmas,” Rebekah explains each year. “Christ came for the poor, the rejected, the oppressed, and the dispossessed as much as he came for any of us.”
So there our challenged angel sits, every year, ugly yet beautiful at the same time. She decorates the top of our exceptionally gaudy tree, our wonderful symbol of Hope and Peace and Redemption. She tells the most beautiful story of how Christ was born – she tells it unfailingly, and she can testify personally as to how the newborn king died for absolutely everyone. She will tell the truth about Advent so long as we have a tree for her to preach from, and, always, she will share the eternal story of Hope.
PRAYER: Lord of all life, Advent can transform people from darkness into light. We think of your goodness, we think about your love, and we understand that without you there is no durable hope in this world. Thank you for your amazing gift. Amen