The Friday before the first weekend in Advent, I had only just arrived home when my nearly four year-old son asked if we could begin decorating right now! My wife and I agreed (after dinner). We said that, with our nine month-old beginning to sit up and crawl, we could decorate only at a height out of her reach. We’d set up our little Christmas tree: one that fits on a table top.
My son frowned. “But I want a big tree,” he exclaimed!
“We understand,” my wife Marie replied. “Oma, and Granny and Grandpa probably will have bigger trees.”
“But I want our house to have a big tree, too!” my son pleaded.
“What about decorating our little tree, for now? Then you can help us decorate the fireplace!” Marie said.
Still, my son occasionally repeated his requests for a bigger tree.
That weekend, we visited “Old Town” Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. Bagpipers in the annual Scottish Walk marched past historic houses dressed up with greens wreaths and lamp posts lined with bright red bows. From St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to St. Mary’s Catholic Basilica, familiar carols and hymns enveloped us like a warm scarf drawn close on a frosty morning.
The highlight for my son was the night before, though. The evening was foggy but as we strolled down King Street, he spied bright, twinkling lights in the distance. “A tree!” he shouted; “a really big Christmas tree!” After crossing the block to Market Square, he ran over and basked in the tree’s inviting glow.
In her sermon reflecting on the Gospel lesson for the First Sunday of Advent, the Rev. Elizabeth Rees of St. Paul’s in Alexandria observed that while we might expect a story about anticipating the arrival of baby Jesus, instead it’s Jesus himself, all grown up, who admonishes us: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.”
Whoa! But when we become busy with wrapping presents, sending holiday cards, or finding the perfect evergreen, maybe we do need to be reminded of the ultimate gift of God’s grace and love–and that the arrival of the holy child is the earthly beginning, not the end, of this sacred story. (Still, what a wonderous beginning it is!)
One night, as we discussed buying a nut-free Advent calendar and picked up baby toys scattered about the floor, Marie reminded me of our son’s first Christmas in church. He had fallen asleep in the service and Marie carefully walked him to the front as the liturgy ended so we could take a family photo in front of the creche and poinsettias.
But then he awoke! His small body turned in Marie’s arms so he could get a better view of the nativity scene, the lights, and the flowers. His face lit up with such joy and awe at the beautifully decorated sanctuary.
It was a great memory which also served as a great reminder. May we, amid the chances and changes of this life, also turn toward the light of Christ. “That our hearts may he unfeignedly thankful: and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days”.