There I was holding my syrupy seasonal coffee in one hand, and Sheila Walsh’s new devotional, “The Gifts of Christmas,” in the other. I was relishing every page of the book as I prepared for my interview with her on 100 Huntley Street. Chock full of cute Christmas stories, interesting facts about holiday traditions, reflections on beautiful hymns, and life-changing biblical truth like the fact that Jesus was more likely born in a cave, and not a manger, bringing new gravity to the adult Jesus’ words to his disciples,
“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”Matthew 8:20
Sheila’s words of wonder and wisdom at Christmas time, made me think about my own Christmases past. Suddenly, I found myself asking the question; During the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, does my life look like I amconsistently celebrating the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus?
Have I, at times, been so focused on the mission of ministry at Christmas, the holiday lights and the just right gifts, that I simply forgot to rest in the fact that,
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”James 1:17
And that, the most important God has given us is the very reason for Christmas itself; The gift of Jesus, “Immanuel God with us,” (Matthew 1:23), Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” (Isaiah 9:6)?
Woah, Holy Spirit, wait a second, I’m reading this book to interview Sheila so we can help our viewers and ministry partners stay in touch with the true meaning of the season, Jesus! And yet, of course, I am decades into my faith journey so I know better than to disregard God’s still small voice. As always, I quickly react and then I quickly submit. “Ok then Lord,” I said aloud, let’s explore where the treasure of my heart (Matthew 6:21) is at Christmas time.
Suddenly, one particular Christmas came to mind for me. It was my first Christmas serving at 100 Huntley Street and my husband, Jeff, and boys Jake and Ben, and I, were new to Burlington. We had moved to new jobs, in our new hometown in the midst of a global pandemic. I am sure you know the one I am talking about! So there we were under social restrictions trying to create a social life for our boys, and hoping to find fun things to do for the Christmas season! Well, our social life was pretty much one big Zoom call but, we did manage to get outside to enjoy ourselves and strike up some festive fun…along with everyone else, I might add.
It was the year when everyone, and I mean everyone, decided to create socially distanced Christmas memories, by going to the great outdoors to chop down a Christmas tree!
So there I was one week before Christmas at a Christmas tree farm in Halton Hills, Ontario, and as I stood there surveying my options, I quickly realized I had none! All of the trees were out of stock! There wasn’t a Spruce, a Balsam Fir, a Douglas Fir, or a Fraser Fir in stock. Zip. Nada. Zero. I went and spoke to the lot worker and they smiled at me with compassion, “Well, if you can cut down one of the big ones, their all yours!” I looked up at the 30 foot tall Spruce trees towering over me. “Oh that’s ok, I’ll figure it out.”
I stood there in the cold snow, my face red from both the wind and the embarrassment. No room at the inn and no Christmas tree on the lot! I had postponed our Christmas tree outing because I had been so busy at work, in ministry, and at home! I could feel the irony welling up inside of me. In the busyness of the Christmas season, I was so focused on sharing the message of Jesus on air at 100 Huntley Street, sending out Christmas cards, buying my boys the perfect Christmas gifts that, I had lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas; being present with the one who came to be present with us, Jesus, and being present with the people He gave me to be present with!
As I write this festive tell-all, I have to give myself a little break here, as I know God is actually telling me to. My Christmases growing up, like many of you, were less than ideal, and so sometimes we get caught up in creating a Norman Rockwell kind of Christmas, don’t we? We get caught up in the charity, cheer, and charm of good works, perfect season’s greetings, and lots of gifts under giant, perfectly decorated Christmas trees. When we unpack thoughts like this, we are reminded that God’s kingdom is upside down, and it is in our weakness that we are made strong, in our humbling that we are honored, and in our brokenness made whole. Not because of anything we have done, but because of what He has done; Christ our redeemer, king, and savior. And so when we get caught up with trying to make life and ourselves perfect, let us remember, what the Bible says, “”But God chose the foolish things of the world, to confuse the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27). Foolish. Check! Weak. Check! Ok, so we are all in good company here then!
Now back to the Christmas tree yard!
The snow was lightly falling as I turned to my husband Jeff and said, “One way or another, we are going home with a tree!” We walked and walked until our eyes spotted one contender; about ten feet tall, brown and withered on the top, and somewhat bent over. My husband and I sized up the situation, we love a good house reno, so why not reno this tree! We walked over and began to chop, carve, and corral. By the end of our tree reno, we had a five-foot tall, crooked, mishappen, half dead, Christmas tree, that would have been a good stand in for the sad tree in a “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Notice in my pictures attached, I don’t even show the entire tree in any shot!
There are 50,000 twinkling lights on the eighty-foot tall trees at Rockefeller Center in New York City. People travel from far and wide to witness them in all their glory. But what about the humble little misshapen, too short, too wide, sparse, and trees that end up decorating our houses at some point in time? What about the less-than perfect people who end up forgetting the true meaning of the Christmas season, even with all the best intent in their hearts? Not people like me, right? Not people like you.
Good thing the savior we celebrate at Christmas time, knows humble beginnings and hurting hearts. From being born in the mire and muck of a cave, to meeting the needs of society’s neglected and forgotten, to being the Holy God incarnate crucified on a cross by his own creation, our Jesus knows that we offer him the crooked, mishappen, half-dead, parts of our lives, our motives, our attitudes, and our hearts and He responds to our feeble offerings, by transforming us into something beautiful. Not perfect. Not poised. But beautiful. A heavenly glow emanates from the redeemed part of our lives that is so powerful in could drown out a hundred Rockefeller Christmas trees!
Jesus does this for us not because we practice good deeds, or show good focus, or have good attitudes, but because He is good and faithful and kind, and when we put Him at the center of our hearts at Christmas, when we treasure Him a the greatest gift of all, we are gifted with His presence and that turns our lives into gifts meant others can unwrap all year long. And you don’t need the prettiest tree on the farm or street, for that kind of gift.