We went to the local tree yard with just one shy hour to find this year’s Christmas tree. I attempted to keep kids buoyant even though blood sugar levels were promptly plummeting as I tried to imagine what to wrangle for the next family meal. There were squeals and strong opinions about what kind of tree to choose. There were little boys slipping in muddy, cold, pine needle-laden puddles in the chilly, string-lit tent. My mothering efforts were spent cajoling and cheering. I sighed with relief and felt it was worth the deliberation when we collectively decided on the perfect tree.
A chipper, young employee handed us a bright yellow barcode from the base of the tree for us to take inside and pay. Fifteen minutes later we were a motley crew emerging from the garden storefront with our receipt in hand. As I begin to ready our van for loading, my husband walked toward me: “Our tree is nowhere to be found…I guess they gave it to someone else?”…”Our perfect tree is lost?…” My voice trailed off in a bit of a high pitch. The hour we spent looking for it had actually felt exponential and now the worth of the family outing felt lost. I knew we did not have another hour in the already maxed-out schedule. I then turned to see the disappointment on the children’s faces and my internal maternal instinct flailed.
It is in these small, unsuspecting moments that my carefully stored, theologically sound Advent perspective can evaporate like crippling memory loss. The slippery moment felt like a metaphor gone wrong. In all my humanity I could feel my gut reaction rise. I melted a bit inside over the frustration. “Why?!” In truth, sometimes I can get caught up in trying too hard in my own strength. Then we were asked to return to the register and get a full refund in cash. We were also invited to choose any kind of tree of our liking for no charge. No charge?! The provision began to unfold in real time. It took my husband and the children no more than five minutes and the tree was roped atop our van in characteristic fashion. The free, swift provision was almost too easy to believe.
The fact is, what happened was a perfect metaphor for Advent. I began to think of the tree where our first parents lost their faith in God’s constant, perfect provision and how right in the moment of the loss the promise of the protoevangelium was made – the promise of Christ’s coming and saving power freely given to each of us. They hid from God when faced with the fallenness of the world – escaping into arrangements of their own making. The hard question is this: when I face loss and the rug is ripped out from under me, am I going to run from provision and peace, or escape into the stress and criticism of a fallen world? Losses are not just losses – they are the very room I can prepare to let more of Christ in. Jesus is true presence – a person who wants to share his heart with mine. He is more concerned about the state of my heart and filling the haunting feeling of loss that one lost Christmas tree can bring to the fore. He is more aware of my depth of need than I am myself.
My need is for constant hope and abiding peace to become the very form of my soul. Virtue comes flooding in with the surrender to God’s sovereign providence, not immunity from the painful frustrations of family life. Maybe it is these gritty moments of muddy pine needles that resemble the manger where Christ was laid? This is the message of Christmas – Emmanuel-God is with us. The Savior came! Join me in preparing him room. He is coming as the constant in our lives to show you and I that he is providing for our hearts in his loving, uncanny, miraculous way – a freely given grace.