So we rejoice in the mystery of this tiny baby. We give presents to each other as reminders of his great gift of himself to us. We trim the Christmas tree, although the Christmas tree was not originally a Christian symbol, but came out of northern Europe and the worship of different gods. But any affirmation of love and beauty can become Christian, because Christianity is totally committed to incarnation. The decorated tree may have secular origins, but if we truly believe in incarnation, then everything secular can also be sacred. So we trim our trees and make them sparkle with light as a symbol that light is stronger than darkness, and even in a world as dark as ours, the light still shines, and cannot be extinguished.
This is no time for a child to be born,
With the Earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor and truth were trampled by scorn–
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn–
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth. -Madeleine L’Engle
I love our Christmas tree, though I have to admit that it felt a little early to be putting it up this year. We put it up the day after Thanksgiving, as we always do, because that is the day that we can put it up, a day that we have off. We make ourselves a Thanksgiving dinner, and we decorate the house.
I also love the idea of a Christmas tree as a symbol of light, though I can’t say that I feel that way about mine all the time. It’s important to me, and I love our ornaments and our angel, our traditions. Our Christmas tree represents family to me, and maybe that’s enough.
Mike and I have had some conversations about Christmas presents lately, because we feel pretty content these days with our whole “not exchanging presents” thing, as it gives us time and money to do things like go to plays and walk among the luminaries at the park and spend quiet nights listening to Christmas music. We wonder (in a theoretical way) what we should do when we have a family. Every year Mike is more committed to the idea of not exchanging presents at all, of rejecting the consumerism that says that we have to spend a certain amount of money at the holidays. I like the idea of making birthdays our big present-opening celebration and keeping Christmas separate from the world’s idea of celebration, but I don’t think we have to eschew presents entirely in order to make that happen. I think that presents can be part of that celebration, part of affirming love and beauty, part of affirming love and light in our troubled world.
I don’t want presents to be something crossed off a list or purchased out of obligation, but I do take great joy in buying presents and baking cookies for those around me. I want to do so as long as those things continue to point me to Christ.