My Christmas tree is already up at home. I spoke about it in my sermon this past Sunday. And it made me think of a Christmas long ago, when I was just nine.
I was in the fourth grade, and a devoted student of my teacher, Miss Barrett. Like most all classrooms in that time, ours was decorated for most of December with snowflakes we'd cut out of white paper, and chains of red and green construction paper rings. And, of course, a decorated tree. Not a plastic tree, mind you, but a real live pine. It stood in the corner of the classroom for two or three weeks before Christmas. Then, on the last day of school before our vacation, we had a class Christmas party. We exchanged our no-more-than-one-dollar-a piece grab bag gifts , sang some Christmas songs and then ate the cupcakes our room mother had made that left us with green lips and red tongues.
I am not sure what possessed me to ask, but as we filed out after the last bell, midst shouts of "Merry Christmas," I asked Miss Barrett what would happen to the tree.
"Oh," she said, "The custodian will put it out in the trash."
Suddenly I had a nine-year old's flash of inspiration. We never got our tree at home until the last minute on Christmas Eve, maybe . . . .
"Could I have it?" I asked. Imagine, I thought, how pleased Dad will be to get a free tree. He was, I must admit, a real penny pincher, and in retrospect I am sure that was part of his reason for waiting so long each year before buying one. But in fourth grade I didn't think of that. I just though how pleased he would be at his oldest son's ingenuity.
It also didn't occur to me that the tree was already pretty dried out. In my excitement I didn't even notice all the needles I was leaving behind me as I dragged it home through the snow. And it never occurred to me--not even once--that I might be upsetting my Dad's own enjoyment of our longstanding tradition. But that Christmas was not destined to be quite as Dad had planned.
He could have laughed at my Charlie Brown tree, I suppose. Or he could have gotten angry. Or he could have simply said, "No thanks!" But to his credit, he treated my tree as a real prize and made me feel like a million bucks!
"That's great, John," he said when I showed him the tree. "Good thinking!" And best of all, I overheard him telling another adult how clever I had been. For me it was one of the best Christmases ever. All because my father--not known as a flexible soul--had been able to deal with the unexpected--and not just deal with it, but embrace it as well. But that's certainly appropriate, for the Christmas story itself is all about the unexpected turns in life, and how ordinary folks like Mary and Joseph and the shepherds, not only dealt with those turns, but like my Dad, embraced them as well.
Thanks Dad--what a great way of showing me a profound truth!