by Dale Reeves
This past Monday morning, our church staff worked alongside some amazing volunteers to get our church lobby and stage ready for the Christmas season. I was assigned a job from our First Impressions coordinator, Rachel Cote, and I got to work alongside one of our church members, Dave Moeggenberg, as we assembled and “fluffed” several artificial trees for the lobby, untangled strands of lights, and attached them to the trees. As we worked side by side, Dave shared with me a few memories from Christmas past. Several years ago, his wife Anita would decorate at least nine Christmas trees inside their home. Additionally, she had a collection of over 900 Santa Clauses, which led to the Cincinnati Enquirer doing a story on them. Dave’s 50,000 lights and display pieces outside their home led to them winning Deerfield Township’s Christmas display contest several years in a row. During those days, as Dave said, “We were ate up with Christmas decorating.”
Pam Thomas, our church’s finance administrator, told me that they left their Christmas tree up all this past year. Pam shares, “JoJo, our two-year-old granddaughter spends her mornings at our house with Papaw, and they have a daily routine. She wakes him up and has him get her a snack and a drink. Then, she would plug in the Christmas tree and make sure all the appropriate lights were on before settling in Papaw’s lap to snuggle and watch TV.” Pam continues, “After Christmas last year, we just couldn’t take down the tree and mess up JoJo’s routine. But it’s been a daily reminder for us that God is with us throughout the year, not just at Christmastime. We’ve had some struggles this year but that one thing, that one tree, our one God has been constant and has been with us through it all.”
What’s Your Tradition?
Do you know why we do this in our church and in our homes every year? The practice of bringing evergreens into the church building and in our homes did not originate with the cutting down of the massive tree that Clark Griswold brought into his home, and burst out of the window in Christmas Vacation. The Christmas tree’s beginning is buried in various legends coming from different countries and connected with ancient peoples and with some pagan religions. For instance, the Egyptians took green date palms into their homes during their winter solstice rites signifying life triumphant over death. The druids of Northern Europe honored their chief god, Odin, by tying gilded apples to tree branches. When pagans accepted Christianity some of their winter rites continued, but the symbolism was changed to honor Christ. Today, the evergreen Christmas tree is decorated with lights to remind us of Jesus (he lives forever and is the light of the world!), and its spire points upward reminding people of God.
What has been your tradition? Is the putting up of a Christmas tree (or several) something you look forward to every year, or something you dread? Do you do this sometime in November or do you have to wait until after Thanksgiving Day? Is this a family activity where everyone gets to hang their own ornaments every year, or is it something you have to pull teeth for or bribe the kids or grandkids in order to enlist their help? Is this something you are not looking forward to this year because you’ve experienced a death in your family recently, and you know the season will just not be the same without that loved one to celebrate with you this year?
What Are Your Memories?
In the Gospel of Luke, after the baby Jesus is born in the little town of Bethlehem, Mary placed him in a feeding trough for animals, and after the shepherds came to worship him, the Bible tells us: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, NIV). She began storing up memories of all that had taken place. She continued doing so as Jesus grew as a child and became a man. What kind of memories do you think she stored in her heart? Memories of his first steps, memories of his first words, memories of when he first went to the synagogue, memories of encounters with friends, or perhaps memories of a child who made fun of him or hit him for some reason. No doubt she stored up memories of seeing him baptized in the Jordan River by his cousin John the Baptist, and we know she was present when Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. If Mary would have had a Christmas tree in those days, what kind of memories would she have hung on that tree?
As my wife and I were putting up our Christmas tree in the family room the other night, Karen handed me an old, but shiny, red bulb, and asked, “Didn’t this come from your mother’s Christmas tree? Do you want to hang it on the tree?” My mom graduated to her heavenly home in January 2013, but I still miss her, especially around this season, because she loved celebrating the “reason for the season.” I have an ornament that I hang on my own tree in the man cave downstairs that is also from my mom’s
tree. It pictures a barn, a silo, and a cow, and I love this ornament because it reminds me of the first Christmas I can remember at the age of five, when my mom bought me a play farm set. This was the first Christmas after my father’s death at a very young age, and we were doing Christmas that year with my grandparents who lived on a farm outside Maysville, Kentucky.
When my wife and I hang the salt-dough ornaments that our daughters made when they were in kindergarten, we chuckle every year at the difference in artistic ability between the two girls at that age. And we have lots of memories because of our numerous family ornaments. In the days when our girls were growing up, we would drive to Lebanon every year to buy our Fraser fir, either by cutting our own tree down, or by purchasing a pre-cut tree from the barn at Big Tree Plantation. Part of our
tradition is that we would also buy a family ornament every year with our names and year written on the ornament. We have ornaments of the Reeves’ family (prior to our sons-in-law and grandkids), depicted as snowmen, carolers, skating moose, gingerbread men, penguins, and frogs. We think of how fun those years with our girls were. Now we are forming new memories with our grandchildren.
Other memories on our tree include our very first Christmas together as a married couple in 1985, trips to Walt Disney World, and travel ornaments from all over our country and our world that we have collected through the years. As I said to my wife Karen the other night as I was hanging an ornament of the Eiffel Tower, “If we never got to take another trip together, we have been blessed to be able to see so much of God’s beautiful creation, haven’t we?”
What’s Your Story?
The Christmas tree can be an opportunity for you to cling to the good memories of the past, to grieve over loved ones you have lost, to celebrate all that those family members meant to you, and to create new memories. Every year as we place the lit angel on the top of the tree, we look at the tree from different angles and perspectives, to make sure that the view is just right. After all, we’ll be looking at this creation for the next month or more, turning on the lights every morning and evening. My wife prefers the simplicity of all white lights, while the grandsons and I like the colored lights. I love that the tree we own allows us to jump from one to another in just seconds by the click of a pedal switch. I enjoy playing the game of having the colored lights on, seeing how long it will take Karen to notice. Are there enough branches here and there, are there too many ornaments in this area and not that area, and why is there always a hole in that spot of the tree? Well, often it depends on your perspective.
Can I ask you a question today? What’s your perspective? May this season be one in which you cling to the good memories—and allow God to get you through the difficult ones. He cares for us, and no doubt ponders things in his heart concerning his children. Just as the Christmas star sheds light from above as it towers over many Christmas trees, may God’s light shine his goodness and favor on you and yours this season. Your Christmas tree tells a story. May it be a testimony of all the good things God has done in your life.
The psalmist exclaimed, “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told” (Psalm 40:5, ESV).