I tried to make it — I really did. But Candlemas (February 2) is nine days away and our Christmas tree is beyond dead. (Some of you might remember that Christmas was last month.)
For those of you who are in the dark about this, I was trying to make it to February 2, traditionally the last day to dismantle Christmas decorations that also corresponds with Candlemas, a traditional Blessing of the Candles for the year. I tried to make it, but I caved under the pressure of having a huge unlit torch in our living room, and the need to finally get on with life.
Actually, the tree is still in its spot, it has just been stripped of all its ornaments and lights and now stands there naked and alone awaiting its final trip to the street for pick-up. It was such a perfectly-shaped tree that it still looks beautiful, it’s just that its branches turn down instead of up. It was actually hard to get at some of the ornaments because the branches were curled under so tightly that I had to pull them apart to get inside. Tips of branches snapped off easily. It was a grand tree — one of the grandest we’ve ever had, and we’ve had some great ones.
There is a twinge of sadness today as there always is when you take down Christmas. You feel like you never got the chance to truly enjoy it. It goes by so fast. This year, keeping it up as long as we have, I thought for sure we would have gotten more time to enjoy it, but it seems like that doesn’t matter. Whenever you take it down, you will have simply not gotten enough of Christmas.
Peace on earth will come to all
If we just follow the light
So let’s give thanks to the Lord above
‘Cause Santy Claus comes tonight
I must say, in a very strange way, this is one of my favorite Christmas songs, especially the original Gene Autry version. (He sings it “‘Santy’ Claus.”) The irony of juxtaposing thanking the Lord and the coming of Santa in two lines always makes me chuckle. This incongruous blend of the secular and sacred versions of Christmas points out the confusion of the season. I don’t know of any other attempt to blend the two. You certainly don’t ever see Santa at the manger, or Jesus by the Christmas tree. It may be why neither is ever fully satisfying. One is characterized by overdone expectations, getting gifts and disappointment, the other by a baby, shepherds and three wise men. Giving thanks to the Lord that Santa’s coming is just not going to do it. They really don’t go together, and I think in a way they fight with each other until we pack it away for another year.
The only way Christ works at Christmas is the degree to which we tell the whole story. Not to be a pessimist, but even the sacred story has been secularized by our culture in that the main focus is on a baby in a manger, the shepherds and the wise men. Big deal. With the exception of the real traditional Christmas carols you don’t get the whole story. The New Testament never makes anything of the baby Jesus except to tell the story of His birth and the story is not even in all the gospels. The only time the child is celebrated in the scriptures, that I can think of, is the prophecy of Isaiah, “For unto us a child is born,” but immediately we find out who this child is: “and His name shall be called wonderful, counselor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Just a baby in a manger? I think not.
Maybe we should give Christmas back to Santa. Give preference to what we’re going to give, over what we might get, and revel in the Dickens kind of converted generous spirit. And when the baby comes up, let’s look for opportunities to tell the whole story of who that baby really is, what He came to do, and how He did it! Praise God, He did it! Let’s not try to make anything too sacred out of Christmas. It’s just not there.
Just a few thoughts as I pack away. Christ’s life, death and resurrection is what we take with us all year. And we take it, that we might give it away. That’s why we call it — Grace Turned Outward.