[vc_row fullwidth="false" attached="false" padding="0" visibility="" animation=""][vc_column border_color="" visibility="" width="1/1"][vc_column_text disable_pattern="true" align="left" margin_bottom="0"]I used to lay under the Christmas tree, peering through branches laced with ornaments that each told a story. Like my 4th grade picture, laminated into a canning lid, wrapped in red and green yarn and perched somewhere deep in the tree. It's still there this year. Just last week, the same boy that carefully crafted it for his Mom over 30 years ago hooked it to a branch, laughing once again at my funny school picture. This time my own middle school boy was running wild in the house with cousins. Craziness. Deep in the tree - that was the place I liked to hang my ornaments. Not because I wanted to hide them, but because that's where the stories would be found. Tiny white lights bouncing and reflecting from limb to limb, casting a glow of hope and color on what usually lay hidden. I would gaze up into this kaleidoscope of color and wonder, excited about gifts, home-made cookies and the warmth of family and wonder.
I wasn't old enough to move beyond the silent night of Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, nestled into the stable. I "knew" their stories (we had to listen to Uncle Tom read Luke 2 before we could even touch a present on Christmas Eve), but their place was on the mantle with all the other cast of characters. Our Nativity set with the donkey's broken ear (skillfully glued back in place by my Dad) and the wise men, which I insisted needed to be on the far edge of the mantle, because everyone knows they weren't really there until Jesus was a toddler. The awkward baby Jesus with arms outstretched, who would sometimes get lost in the box, separated from the manger. It was all a distant, once a year then put back into the box kind of tale.
Much later in my high school years, the story began to take shape in my heart. Somewhere, through the branches wrapped in lights, underneath the pile of presents (hopefully, none of them wearable), I began to hear the story of the ages. I would look into the night sky, straining my eyes on Christmas Eve for the smallest snowflake (now I have them a plenty, but the "what if" of snow in Tennessee for Christmas was almost magical). Instead of soft snow, ancient lights mapped the galaxy, each with their own story of grace, beckoning me to listen.
I would close my eyes and imagine myself in a quiet pasture just outside of Bethlehem. I was seeking, yearning and asking for the grace to see and hear the song from that first night of nights. There in the quiet - away from the shopping, wrapping, parties and church activity, an unexpected and simple adoration spilled from my heart. Faith as small as the pin pricks in the sky brightened the darkness of my world.
I was keeping company with shepherds from centuries before. They too experienced the unexpected gift of a God who notices you and desires to be with you. History and culture tells us that they were long forgotten by important people. Keeping the sheep, left only for the lowest of the low and outcasts - this was all they had. Under those same stars, they wondered, looking and longing for a different reality than their own. How could a King welcome them? In what universe could they be invited to visit royalty?
And yet… they received the first invitation. Come and see. Come and worship.
We don't know their names, only that they "went with haste" to find out if what the angel had said was really true. I picture these guys high-tailing it across their fields, possibly with a few hundred confused and startled sheep in tow. Out of breath, dirty and timid, they approach the newborn with awe. Their hearts racing, their mouths dry and speechless, tears streaming down their faces, they bow to pay tribute to their King.
We never hear from those shepherds again, but I would bet that a few of them made the 5 mile trek to another common place just outside of Jerusalem, some 33 years later. This time, there would be no angels singing, the sky would be dark with sadness, and the mobs would not be paying tribute. Yet they would remember the words that split the sky that first night: A Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
With the same longing of hope and faith, they would see past the darkness of that day. On that tree, hung the perfect ornament from heaven. The story would be hammered deep into the tree, it's truth fixed in eternity.
God in a manger. God on a tree. God in the tomb. Heaven's Glory.
May you look deep into the tree this Christmas. His story is there. And it's almost too good to be true.
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