Third Thursday of Advent: Among the Crashing Trees
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
—Isaiah 9:2 (Read Isaiah 9)
The Saturday after Thanksgiving, my mom started a family tradition. She bundled me and my sister in several layers and off we went to the Christmas tree farm. Once we spotted “The One”—the perfect tree, preferably spruce, with minimal bare spots—we took our handsaw and chopped it down. After a bit more effort than we really desired, we tied the tree to the roof of our car to begin part two of our tradition.
We drank hot chocolate, listened to Christmas music, and decorated the tree with our respective boxes of ornaments. Our tree was an eclectic mix of beautiful bead trim and ribbons alongside ornaments my sister and I had collected through the years.
Unfortunately, we also usually experienced a less desirable part three to this tradition.
About 10 days after setting up our perfect tree, we would discover that, although we had some help finalizing our cut on the trunk, neither my mom nor the Boy Scouts assisting us were skilled lumberjacks. This made the tree a bit wobbly in its holder. And so—always right in the middle of the night—we would awaken to the sound of a loud crash.
Our perfect tree, decorated with care, sprawled across the floor of the living room.
The lights unraveled and a few ornaments shattered, but as we sleepily lifted the tree off the floor, we discovered much of it still intact.
After several years of this, we finally decided this was a nice tradition for someone else. Our family invested in an artificial tree—and a lovely spruce-scented candle.
Last year, during Advent 2020, I was reminded of all those crashing trees.
Disappointment and the stinging loss of several relationships combined with a global pandemic sent me spinning. I could almost hear the sound of Christmas bulbs shattering.
One particular Sunday captured this season well. I had finished my Christmas shopping, unsure of when I would see the recipients of these newly purchased gifts. I sipped a hot beverage, wrapped presents, and looked at my Christmas tree. I had strung the lights but had not added any other decor. I just couldn’t quite get to that level of cheer.
I turned to a new Advent rhythm, suggested by a friend. I lit my taper candle, marked with evenly spaced lines for each day of Advent, and I worshipped God until the candle burned to the next day’s marking.
And on this night, as I meditated on the flickering flame, I felt keenly aware that Jesus was not snuffing me out. He was fanning my faith into flame (Isaiah 42:3).
As I let the light pierce the darkness of my home, I was reminded that “Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
Into the midst of what felt like never-ending darkness and disappointment, light came.
Every year that the Christmas tree crashed to the ground, we lost a few ornaments. I have one with a glue mark that I still put on my tree, nostalgia filling me as I touch the uneven arm of the plastic animal and place it on the branch.
After the darkness of 2020, I sensed that there were parts of me that needed to be glued together. So I held them up to the light of Christ, and while few of the disappointments of that season magically disappeared, I remembered that the King who came as an infant was born for these very moments.
His nearness knit me back together. His faithfulness re-formed me.
Now in 2021, I am able to spend more time with loved ones as we celebrate many of the rhythms of Advent together.
And I am still using my taper candle.
If you look closely at me in the flickering light, you might see some glue marks from this last season. But I have been re-made, and when Jesus does it, there is a fortitude that comes in the remaking.
Even in my darkest nights, Emmanuel is near.
—Jamie Donne has worked for the CCO for 14 years and currently serves as Advancement Operations and Alumni Relations Specialist.