Hanging lights on a Christmas tree can be most stressful. Some nice person on the Internet has even made a list of Things Not to Say When Hanging Lights on the Christmas Tree. Let me read some of them:
8. “Up a little higher. You can reach it. Go on, try.”
7. “What on earth do you do to these lights when you put them away every year? Tie them in knots?”
6. “You’ve got the whole thing on the tree upside-down. The electric plug thing should be down here at the bottom, not up at the top.”
5. “I don’t care if you have found another two strings, I’m done!”
4. “You’ve just wound ‘em around and around – I thought we agreed it shouldn’t look like a spiral this year?”
3. “Have you been drinking?”
2. “Where’s the cat?”
And the number one thing not to say when hanging lights on a tree? “If you’re not going to do it right, don’t do it at all. Don’t just throw them on, like you do the icicles. You’re worse than your father.”
It’s not easy getting ready for Christmas. Luke, in his narrative concerning the coming of Christ quotes the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God‘s salvation.’” (NRSV)
We hadn’t been married very long when my in-laws got a ceramic Christmas tree. Every year I would look at that tree with some disdain because a real tree is Christmas. A ceramic tree is not Christmas. Though young, I was smart enough to keep those thoughts to myself. One advantage of a ceramic Christmas tree is that there are no arguments over how the lights are put up! They are the same every year.
I am noticing that more and more of my high school classmates are posting ceramic Christmas trees on Facebook. I would guess that there is a direct correlation between age and the purchasing of ceramic Christmas trees.
Having said all of that, we probably have had more fake Christmas trees than real ones in our married life. Our latest one has the lights already on it, just like a ceramic Christmas tree, only a lot bigger!
Christmas tree lights are sometimes the minimalist expression of Christmas. Some homes and businesses are awash with hundreds, if not thousands, of lights. Unless you live in an Amish community, every community in the country is transformed for Christmas. Christmas is a big deal.
There is talk of a war on Christmas. If there was ever such a war, it is over and corporate America won years ago. Through all the lights, all the shopping ads, all the consumerism, the event that is Christmas, Christ Mass, seems lost.
Yet here we are. We gather once again to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. No one knows when he was actually born. No one bothered to write it down or if they did it was lost. More likely, it was not all that important in first century Judea to mark birthdays. December 25th was chosen to push out a pagan Roman holiday.
The true meaning of Christmas is more than a birthday. That is why the actual birth date is not all that important. What we commemorate is something quite remarkable. God entered history. God intervened. God took human form, the incarnation.
We cannot even begin to conceive of what God is like. It is way beyond our comprehension. So just imagine what was sacrificed here. Such a powerful being as God was willing to be born to a family of no great financial means and to become helpless – as helpless as a baby. Tonight, we worship a helpless God – a God willing to do that for us. St. Paul in Philippians worded it this way, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”
The miracle of Christmas is not an angel getting wings. The miracle of Christmas is that God shared our humanity. God intimately knows us. God lived as one of us. And when Jesus was raised at the Ascension, our humanity joined the godhead.
With the incarnation, we became Christ-like. The spark of Christ is in every one of us. One of our baptismal vows requires us to see the Christ in everyone. As I tell people in baptismal preparation, it is harder to see Christ in some people more than others, but it is still there.
Christmas, the Incarnation, is the greatest gift we can ever receive.
I think the Grinch said it best:
“And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: ‘How could it be so?’
‘It came without ribbons! It came without tags!’
‘It came without packages, boxes or bags!’
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.’
‘Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more!’”