We bought an artificial tree several years ago. It's a good one - very realistic looking. Every year, just after Thanksgiving I pack it up out of the basement, help set it up, and then turn over the decorating to the "Vice President in Charge of All Things Decorative at Christmas" (VPICATDC). She is much better at it than I and she is even the one who has the extra duty at work of doing the Christmas decorations at Ashland Community and Technical College. She even does the major Christmas decorations at the home of the college President! My job is to do the menial labor and to enjoy the beauty of the tree during the Christmas season. The youngest grandson looks at the tree in marvel and the kids are fascinated with the beautifully wrapped gifts under it's artificial boughs. Then, usually on New Year's Day, we undecorate the masterpiece (I am allowed to help). The tree is disassembled into three large sections, folded up and goes back in it's huge box. I drag that box and the several related plastic tubs back to their place of exile in the back room of the basement, across from the furnace.
It was not that way when I was growing up on Gallaher Street, in the Walnut Hills section of the east end of Huntington, WV. Hardly anyone had an artificial tree. In the early 60's my grandfather had one of those weird aluminum trees. It came with a spotlight and revolving colored lenses that cast red, blue, green, and yellow hues upon it's metallic branches. Most of our neighbors, however, had the real thing in their homes. We would go down to "Gallaherville", and peruse the trees which filled the lot of the Dairy Cheer which would be closed for the winter. Trees of various heights and different varieties stood, nailed to wooden crosses as their bases. My favorites were the Scotch Pines or the Blue Spruces. Dad would thoroughly examine each tree, turning it so Mom could see it from every angle, and point out any holes or unsymmetrical characteristics. Having found the perfect tree, Dad would then haggle over the prices with the owner of the lot, much like Ralphie's Dad in the classic movie, "A Christmas Story". When negotiations would come to a standstill, Dad would threaten to go down to the big lot on 20th Street, and eventually the owner would capitulate to his threat and lower his price. We then would tie the tree to the top of the car and drive back up Gallaher Street for the major project that involved putting up the tree.
That ritual was multiplied in households up and down our street and all over our town. The trees stood proudly in our homes, decorated with lights, bulbs, ornaments of all types, icicles and a glowing star on top. There was nothing more beautiful to me than the Christmas tree in all of it's glowing and glittering grandeur. That all changed sometime on Christmas afternoon or evening. With the gifts all gone from under it's boughs, the tree seemed somehow empty. The tinsel did not seem to glitter as much, and even the lights did not appear as bright. After a day or so, we began to remove the decorations and pack them away in their boxes for next year. The tree had aged while in our living room. Now the branches were brittle. Even though we had dutifully kept fresh water in the stand, the needles began to fall from the tree and it was time to go. Once most of the decorations were removed, Dad would unceremoniously drag the dried out tree to the curb for the city to pick up.
As one drove through the streets of the city, dead used up Christmas trees lined the way. Many of them still held residue of the holiday. A little tinsel or a strand of ribbon could be seen here or there, but they all lay in silent testimony to the fact that Christmas was over!
Aren't we often like those discarded trees? Especially those of us who identify ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ?
At Christmas time we take up arms in the culture war. We righteously proclaim the "true meaning of Christmas". We coin familiar slogans such as "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" and "Wise Men Still Seek Him" as our mantras. We buy gifts for those we love. We begin to think of others who are less fortunate. Often we give of our financial resources to all types of charitable causes. We remember our military personnel and their families. We may even volunteer to work in a mission house, cooking meals, or even ringing the bell for the Salvation Army. We send greeting cards and messages of love to family and friends. Some visit hospitals and bring presents to sick children. We find ourselves being kind to strangers, opening doors for folks, and helping someone pick up their dropped packages in the mall. Some of us even become much more confident at this season to witness to others about our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Church buildings are packed with happy worshippers, and we often light candles in emotional services signifying the light of salvation that came into a sin darkened world 20 centuries ago.
Christmas is indeed a special time, but sadly, for many people, Christmas is over at midnight on December 25th. So many of the acts of kindness cease. The goodwill comes to a screeching halt. The Gospel message is packed away for another year. Many forget about the "reason for the season" and go back to the culture of self, and to the focus on getting ahead, or just getting by. Attendance at worship services go back to the "faithful few". Witnessing becomes a chore, and our Christian testimonies resemble so many discarded Christmas trees, with only a hint of the glow of the Christian life to be found in the dry, broken branches.
Let us resolve not to let Christmas die when we go to bed on December 25th. Our world needs the light of the "Good Tidings of Great Joy" - today, more than ever.
Have a Merry Christmas, tomorrow, and for the next 365 days as well!