In 2007, Blair and I were engaged. She was still in seminary at Duke and I was serving a church in Athens and was living alone in a condominium. One night early in December, I was sitting in my living room alone. I did not have many Christmas decorations up besides the wreath from my mother and gumdrop tree on the counter. I was remembering my years of cutting down Christmas trees with my family at Ridgeway Christmas Tree Farm in Jackson, Georgia. In fact, I had worked there for several Decembers during high school. I missed the smells of the Virginia Pine Christmas trees and the joy of picking out our family tree and sawing it down together.
I was feeling a bit like Christmas was passing me by. Somehow, I was feeling like I was missing it. In a small way that Christmas, I could relate to the shepherds in the Christmas story. They felt forgotten. They were humble people, often pushed to the margins of society. They were poor and accustomed to being forgotten.
The next day, I took a half day for myself. I drove out to the local Christmas tree farm near Madison, Georgia. I wanted a tree. The worker handed me a saw. While the families around me laughingly picked out their trees, it was just me in search of mine. I cut it down. I hauled it to the cashier. They netted it for me. I placed it in the trunk of my Honda and set it up in my living room. There I sat and looked at the bare tree. There were no ornaments or lights. I told a colleague at work later that day what I had done. He said, “Will, that’s the saddest thing I have ever heard all year.”
I called Blair that evening. She said, “Will, we’ve got to get you some ornaments.”
The next morning, she finished her class work and drove down from Durham with three ornaments for our tree. She strung lights, white lights, even though I prefer the colored lights. That evening, Blair and I were in the living room and I heard a knock on the door. A friend from the church showed up. He had an ornament in hand. And then another knock and another. Scott brought a pickle ornament that is apparently a tradition in Germany. Karen brought a manger scene. Julie brought a creepy clown ornament. Blair had organized an ornament party. By the end of the night, the Christmas tree was full. But the people didn’t just leave. They hung around. It was a Christmas Party!
That night, after everyone had left the party, I sat on the couch and looked at that full tree. I realized something. I thought I was longing for decorations and the smells of Christmas. What I was yearning for that year was not the decorations. I was yearning for the people I loved. All of those ornaments were just too overwhelming, because I could not believe that so many people cared for me. That sort of good news just seemed too good. That’s what Christmas is about. It’s about a savior who came for people. Christmas is about people.
Maybe we’ve experienced those moments where we thought the good news was passing us by. We start to believe the good news will always be for someone else. Maybe that’s what those shepherds felt most of their life. But on this night, this news indeed was for them.
Each year, as we hang the ornaments on the tree, Blair and I are reminded of that first Christmas together. Christmas is about the people we love and the people God loves. That includes you.