The owner of a small business in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee is a Scientologist so none of his workers questioned why there were no Christmas decorations in the office or their empty window that faces Broad Street. One day, one brave employee brought a Charlie Brown tree to work, and everyone laughed. It was a short, skinny runt of a tree with one struggling, barren limb holding just one ornament.
Everyone I know has laughed at Charlie’s tree for many decades, but we don’t dare snicker at the barren parts in our personal lives. We want things to go right, work out, and be complete. And when they don’t the tendency is to go inward, to that private place where our disappointments and sadness gets fed. I visited that place this Christmas-2022.
We worked hard to get our house ready for Christmas, candles were anchored in the windows, our ageless angel was placed on top of the tree and every present was wrapped. My wife read through countless recipes and began cooking. Then she got the call.
Our oldest daughter, who is a nurse, has Covid again and her daughter, our granddaughter Charlotte, caught it. So we won’t be able to see them during Christmas. We were supposed to drive up the mountain to Ellijay, Georgia on Christmas Eve to see them and they had planned to come to our house the next day for Christmas lunch. We were so looking forward to hanging out and laughing with them. They love Christmas as much as we do.
Gina brought me the news while I was typing away at work in my downstairs office. I stopped, stared at her, and then spit out comments without thinking. “So, we are going to open our house to other people who don’t even like Christmas?! One family sold their Christmas tree over three months ago!”
Before I could continue, Gina said, “Maybe we can share the gift of Christmas with them. Maybe our decorated house will be the only light of the season for them to experience and enjoy.” My face dropped.
“What’s wrong with you?” my wife asked.
“It’s called conviction.” I said.
After processing the disappointment for a day or two, we woke up Christmas Eve morning. I noticed the heat wasn’t on to combat the single digit temperature. I looked over at the digital clock on the nightstand beside our bed and it was black and blank. I got out of bed and rammed my feet into navy, weathered slippers and ran into the living room. “Who cut the candles off in the windows? We always leave them on all night a few days before Christmas.” My wife had no answers.
I turned on my iPhone and learned about the power outage in Ringgold, Georgia and in Chattanooga. Christmas Eve morning our power came on and off over four times. My wife had to stop cooking. I went to Facebook and read about other outages in North Carolina, my home state. What is going on?
Everyone has inconveniences and deeper still, a lot of folks know all about a deeper barrenness that goes beyond the bother of a lack of electrical power or the disappointment of learning a package ordered on Amazon won’t be delivered until after the holidays.
A friend of ours, three streets over, lost her mother rather suddenly over a month ago and this will be a lonely, grievous Christmas for her. A man I exercise with lost his brother to Covid over a year ago.
Barren hearts, barren lives. We’ve all been there and we will go there again, it’s inevitable, it’s life. So how do we fill the barrenness? Going inward gets old and is not the answer.
Ann Voskamp, as always, paints a realistic picture with her words:
“At how headlines hit too close, how in a blink on an ordinary day, it could be one you love who is bloodied by the senseless violence, busted in a crash, begging prayers for life, getting chemo pumped through the veins. We all lose every single person we love. There is no other way. Think about that too long and you find it hard to breathe. The economy crumbles away under your feet. If one more thing breaks down, if one medical disaster pushes you over the fragile edge, what in the world do you grab on to in this mud-slide of debt?” (The Greatest Gift, pg.188)
A man name Habakkuk answers Ann’s question as he knew about real barrenness. In his self-titled book, (that doesn’t get much attention I guess, because of his hard to pronounce name?) he wrote:
“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.” (3:17-19)
Voskamp continues, “In the barrenness of winter, Habakkuk offers this gift to always carry close: rejoicing in the Lord happens while we still struggle in the now. Struggling and rejoicing are not two chronological steps, one following the other, but two concurrent movements, one fluid with the other. As the cold can move you deeper toward the fire, struggling can move you deeper toward God, who warms you with joy. Struggling can deepen joy. Even though. Even now.” (pg. 189)
Merry Christmas! has more of a hopeful ring to it than Happy Holidays! The Christ of Christmas is our only hope. Happiness waxes and wanes. But joy, real joy is the gift God freely gives to us when we come to Him, all possible, all because of Jesus, the great mediator. Why not watch the music video Behold Him below by Francesca Battistelli…
pictures courtesy of pexels.com