The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
Some holiday memories stick with us for a lifetime. My father died in May the year I turned thirteen. Death can cheat you out of a lot. With my siblings and mother, we resolved that the joy and hope of Christmas were things too precious to abandon. Come December there would still be choir anthems to rehearse at church, school concerts to attend, a house to decorate, shopping and baking to be done.
My mother was firm in her opinions about Christmas trees. Only a scotch pine would do. She drove us to the tree lot and supervised the selection. She left our brother Tim, who had just returned from graduate school, to cut the base and fit the tree into the stand. I lingered in the garage to help. I’ll be honest – nothing in junior high home economics, or a college degree in philosophy, equipped either me or Tim to really know how to do that task at which our father had always been the master. But we made do.
Remembering that day fifty years ago, I know we used the wrong kind of carpentry saw to cut away an inch at the base of that six foot tree. To be honest, neither one of us had ever used a saw before. I’m sure we didn’t clean the sap from the blade. Before we managed to get the tree straight into the stand we probably swore more than our father had in a dozen years. But when we were finished there was a tree to decorate with lights and tinsel and balls; a tree that said sorrow was not the last word in our little world weighed down by grief and loss.
I have been thinking about that particular Christmas this year. In our world many challenges seem harder this time around. In so many communities around the globe there are refugees and storm victims, harsh rhetoric and early deaths. It’s been a long, tough year for many. And yet families keep finding ways to stand together. Siblings hold hands. People of faith dig deeper to find fresh ways to befriend their neighbors. And still Christmas comes.
That’s the good news. Nothing in our human brokenness, weariness, sadness, or cynicism could keep God away. Nothing in our world – not cruelty nor greed, violence nor despair – could dissuade God from coming to us in Jesus Christ. Whether we have the right tools or are simply making do with what is at hand, God comes again this year as all the years before.
I pray that God’s presence is as real for you this year as it was for me in that unheated garage where a simple tree became a sign that God’s love persists; and so, too, God’s mercy and grace and peace. That’s what God intended that first Christmas. It is what God gives still today.
Yours in the joy of Christ’s coming –
Bishop Patricia Lull