In front of the only window we have in our living room, stands our first Christmas tree. Measuring in at about five feet tall is this Douglas Fir, decorated with red and gold shiny and glittery Christmas balls and multi-colored lights. A sheet of tan burlap is swirled around the base and the poorly-wrapped and oddly shaped packages to our family members are hanging out just beneath the last layer of small green braches. It’s nice, and we decorated it while engulfed in the unfolding drama of a Lifetime Christmas movie – a tradition that I’d like to continue but Jon’s not so sure about.
And for the month of December, this simple piece of nature that we decided to bring indoors and hang silly things from has been one of the greatest spiritual reminders in my life. We have a big tan chair that’s placed just beside the tree in the corner of our living room, and in our small apartment this chair and tree combo has created the closest thing we have to a cozy little nook suitable for reading. So this month I’ve been sitting there, reading a little and thinking a lot, about life and where the Author of it is taking me. And as I’ve thought through these things, my gaze has continued to fall back upon this simple tree all covered in glitter and lights and Christmas decor.
Jesus was the master of talking in word pictures, so much so that it seemed that those closest to him wished he would give a straight answer at times. But in his brilliance he described things like the Kingdom of Heaven as a “treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matt. 13:44) And he had similarly depictive pictures of the opposing kingdom. Instead of saying bland statements like, “Heaven is great, you should try and be there,” he spoke in direct, emotion-provoking stories and pictures that related to his listeners; that they could relate to and take to heart. It’s no wonder that it’s easy for people to misunderstand the words of Jesus if they do not first understand the details of when and where and to who he was talking to. Each person he encountered had a unique, personal experience with the Son of Man.
And so it has been in my living room, in the dim of the morning or in the dim of night. The Lord has been speaking to my ever-so-feeble heart in pictures and stories that I’m clinging onto like they’re money. And like I said, my gaze continues to fall back upon this simple tree all covered in glitter and lights and Christmas decor.
When the tree arrived a few Saturdays before, we brought it inside and hurriedly began covering it with decorations so that it would fit the part. Overcome by the excitement of its long-anticipated arrival, we wasted no time in altering its simple, natural appearance. I was affirmed in this when people who visited our home would say what a beautiful Christmas tree it was with all the lights and glitter. And it was. But when I had this realization Lord spoke to me about myself, about other people and about the problems I’d been having. And in that moment I understood what I had been failing to understand for a while now.
Galatians 1:10 says: “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”
As Christians and as people in general we crave a compliment. We crave the approval we get from other people when they notice how great our “decorations” are because we think our decorations speak of who we are. So we spend a lot of time working on appearance and achievements to cover ourselves with decorations that people can notice and praise. But in the end we still feel lacking because while men may praise our decorations, we are so covered in fluff that no one, sometimes not even ourselves, can see the worth and value of the actual tree underneath.
But the Lord made the tree. The Lord is pleased with the tree; the simple, beautiful, original design of his creation. Some under-paid person in India made the glittery fiber-glass ornaments that we value so much and let define us.
And so this Christmas I’m attempting to let go of the fluff that I’ve allowed to cover almost every inch of me. And I’m attempting to let go of the strong, relentless desire to seek the favor, acceptance, and the approval of other people. It’s not easy to take down the decorations. They are a safety and a shield to our timid and frail real selves. But the process is a noble attempt at godliness and one that the Lord will certainly affirm and honor. Because, like I said, the Lord loves his creation and when we seek to please Him we receive true, lasting ornaments and decorations that get stored up in heaven for all of eternity. And even better, we get the lasting, satisfying approval of our Father in Heaven which is of greater worth than the approval of any man or woman.
And this Christmas I’m also just so thankful for Jesus and for his hands that are not too small for turning tables over in my life. Thankful that he understands what he has made and does not turn away from it. And thankful that he speaks clearly to my heart…even if he’s speaking to me through a Christmas tree, which is still not as weird as a donkey.