“Back of the Christmas Tree”
“Back of the Christmas Tree”
Isaiah 9:2-7; John 1:1-18
David Lee Hulsey
December 20, 2020
Ok, 4th Sunday in Advent, which means Christmas Day is almost here. And I’m sure most of us have identified how we feel about this season right now. Many of us are worn out and we are looking forward to some downtime to relax and catch our breath. Many of us are excited by the season and ready to celebrate with family. And many of us are just done with 2020, and ready to move on. Hindsight is always 20/20, fine, just as long as 2020 is in my hindsight.
But the season of Christmas is always a prime opportunity for making memories and telling stories from our past that can remind us of who we are and all those who have come and gone in our lives. There are plenty of funny stories of mishaps and surprises, sad stories of loss and grief, and meaningful stories that cement moments in our lives that we will never forget.
This time of year, I’m reminded of a good friend who came to my rescue when I got stuck on our roof handing up the Christmas lights. I remember the first time my grandfather let me help hand out the presents. I remember the first Christmas celebrated without a beloved family member. I remember the first Christmas I celebrated as a new father. There are many stories and it is my hope and prayer that you get to share some of those this season, and maybe make some new ones.
The Christmas Tree (front)
Getting the Christmas tree or setting up the Christmas tree always comes with a story. You either retell an old story from Christmas past or you end up making a new one right then and there. It doesn’t matter if it’s a real tree, fake tree, pre-lit tree, a palm tree, or even if you don’t have a tree… there’s a story to it. And I love it. I know I may grumble a little as our family is setting it up, stringing up lights, and hanging ornaments, but it’s all a front. It fills me with cheer.
And when it’s all finished, you turn off the room lights and step back and gaze in awe at the sight of it. And then I start to reflect on how this illustration of a Christmas tree reminds me of the reason for the season… that God sent us Jesus Christ into the world, the Word made flesh, the light of the world. And just as we profess that Jesus was God’s gift given to all of us, we have that light inside us, and we in turn, shine that light for others to illuminate the dark.
And so, I see the lights on the Christmas tree as us, shining the light of Christ, reflecting off of the ornaments, ribbons, and tinsel as if reflecting the love, joy, peace, and hope of Christ. And it’s beautiful. And I believe that’s how the people of God, the Church, should present ourselves to one another and to the world, this beautiful example that exudes the love, joy, peace, and hope of Christ. Because we know the story of how God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son to take away the sins of the world. The perfect gift, who not only washed away our sins, but taught us and showed us how to love one another (family, friends, strangers, and even our enemies).
And when you get into that holiday mood, that “reason for the season” feeling, it is heartwarming, it is joyful, and it is as if we can see the glimpses of the Kingdom of God here on earth, surrounded by the love of God.
The Christmas Tree (back)
But you know, life isn’t always that perfect. As a matter of fact, I’d say that life is never that perfect. And neither is a Christmas tree. Y’all know what I’m talking about… the back of the Christmas tree. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fake tree, real tree, pre-lit tree, or palm tree. There is always ALWAYS at least one spot that is … less than perfect, sometimes just annoyingly off or not quite right but you can’t fix it or cover it up, and many times it’s just an eyesore. And is thenceforth dubbed… the back of the Christmas tree. Part of the tree setup is making sure that the spot is turned to the back and not in plain sight. We’ve got to be really careful in our house because one side faces into the room and the other faces out the window, so we have to carefully angle it to a corner in the house.
Because who wants to see a big gaping hole right in the middle of this beautiful tree that we worked so hard on?!? Put it at the back and maybe no one will notice. Look, I get it. Just like perfect and beautiful Christmas trees, we Christians are supposed to be these beautiful and happy images that bear the light of Jesus to the world and draw others into Christ. But we know on the other side of that beautiful front, on the back side, is a part we don’t want others to see. There’s that gaping hole that shows the bare bark or misshapen limb, and the lights and ornaments just don’t seem to cover it up.
Those spots on the back of the tree are where life hasn’t been so pretty. Maybe it’s something that happened to us or was done to us or someone we loved, a tragedy or a loss. Maybe it’s something someone has done to us, a hurt or a betrayal. Maybe it’s something we have done to ourselves or something we have done to another. And it has left this gaping hole right to our core. We can’t let anyone see that! Hide it at the back of the tree.
But we know God doesn’t let us hide alone in the dark. 4The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. This may seem strange, but I’ve thought a lot about the bad spots on Christmas trees. And here’s what I’ve noticed… I can use them! So much so that I’ve come to rely on them. Here’s the thing, when you go to set the tree up in a base to stand it up straight, where do you grab it? I reach for that ugly spot. It’s easy to see where to grab for strong support and without damaging the other branches. And when it’s in the base and I need to spin the tree so the bad spot isn’t facing out or if I need to move the whole tree closer to the window, where am I reaching? I reach for that spot. And where do you think I stuff all the extra wire that connects the first strand of lights to the second strand. That spot or I’d never find the connection again. I rely on that spot to help set the tree the way I want it to be.
And if any friends or family come over and we get to talking about Christmas trees and decorations, I’m more than likely to say, “Hey, come check out this one spot on the tree at the back of the tree.” I know it’s weird, but every year when we go to pick out a tree, I want it to look good, but I’m also looking for this one spot so I know where the back of the tree is going to be and that I can reach the trunk of the tree. I can work with that.
I believe God can work that way in our lives as well. Where we see a barren gap in our lives, the Father sees a place to reach in, grab hold of us, and direct us where we need to go. God does not cast us aside because of our sins, wounds, and scars. Instead, we find forgiveness, grace, mercy, and guidance. Think about the disciple Peter who denied Jesus 3 times. Jesus later reached out to him, offered him grace, and made him a cornerstone on whom He built His Church. Those bad spots at the back of the tree are places where God can do a lot of beautiful work.
Am I saying we need to spin the tree around and put all the imperfections on display front and center? No! Well unless you’re the Christmas tree from Charlie Brown. But otherwise, no.
Jesus is the Light of the world = Christ lives within us = We are to shine His Light to the world = Display the pretty part of the Christmas tree. But not to pretend we’re something we’re not. Instead accepting all that we are and all that we have been through and trusting that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
And it’s not like we’re going to get a chance to show everyone in the world. Our lives are like Christmas trees set in front of the window. Many people (thousands maybe) will see it only briefly and pass by, but a much smaller number will come in and get to really SEE what it’s all about.
Let the light of Christ draw them in, and then invite them closer to the story of what makes this tree unique. I believe that if we allow others into that intimate place of our lives, we do run the risk of rejection, yes, but I believe it is more likely a place where God can work within the hearts of others to open up and say, “Hey, I’ve got a spot like that at the back of my tree as well.”
And here’s the kicker… come Christmas day and time for presents, what’s always at the back of the Christmas tree? That one special gift! You don’t start off with the best present front and center. No, you hide it at the back of the Christmas tree. Because every good gift-giver knows the best gifts are hidden where you least expect them. In those hidden spots in your life, what gift is God waiting to give you, and what gift are you able to give to someone with an empty hole in the back of their Christmas tree?
So friends, I ask this of you… Let your words, your actions, your very lives shine the beautiful and joyful Light of Christ so that others may see it and find hope and sense peace. And then, when we have the chance to get close and get real with someone, be it family, friend, neighbor or stranger… invite them to see the back of the Christmas tree, where life has exposed our failures, our fears, our hardships, and our brokenness. And where God has reached in and reached through to the very heart of us, and grabbed us and holds us and turns us to where we need to be. And there we can share the best gift of all… the gift and love of Jesus Christ.