Hanging old ornaments on a fresh cut tree,
I take each red glass bulb and tinfoil seraph
And blow away the dust. Anyone else
Would throw them out. They are so scratched and shabby.
My mother had so little joy to share
She kept it in a box to hide away.
But on the darkest winter nights—voilà—
She opened it resplendently to shine.
How carefully she hung each thread of tinsel,
Or touched each dime-store bauble with delight.
Blessed by the frankincense of fragrant fir,
Nothing was too little to be loved.
Why do the dead insist on bringing gifts
We can’t reciprocate? We wrap her hopes
Around the tree crowned with a fragile star.
No holiday is holy without ghosts.
~Dana Gioia, “Tinsel, Frankincense, and Fir”
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
~Howard Thurman from The Mood of Christmas & Other Celebrations
There are plenty of ghosts hiding in the boxes of ornaments I place on our Christmas tree.
Closing my eyes, I can see my father struggling to straighten our wild cut trees from our woods, mumbling under his breath in his frustration as he lies prone under the branches. I can see my mother, tears in her eyes, arranging ornaments from her parents’ childhoods, remembering times in her childhood that were fraught and fragile.
Each memory, every scratched-up glass ball is so easily breakable, a mere symbol for the fragility of us all this time of year.
Our real work of Christmas isn’t just during these frantic weeks of Advent but lasts year-long — often very hard intensive work, not just fa-la-la-la-la and jingle bells, but badly needed labor in this broken world with its homelessness, hunger, disease, conflict, addictions, depression and pain.
Even so, we enter winter next week replete with a startling splash of orange red that paints the skies in the evenings, the stark and gorgeous snow covered peaks surrounding us during the day, the grace of bald eagles and trumpeter swans flying overhead, the heavenly lights that twinkle every night, the shining globe that circles full above us, and the loving support of the Hand that rocks us to sleep when we are wailing loud.
Once again, I prepare myself to do the real work of Christmas, acknowledging the stark reality that the labor that happened in a barn that night was only the beginning of the labor required to salvage this world begun by an infant in a manger.
We don’t need a fragrant fir, full stockings on the hearth, Christmas villages on the side table, or a star on the top of the tree to know the comfort of His care and the astounding beauty of His creation, available for us without batteries, electrical plug ins, or the need of a ladder.
The ghosts and memories of Christmas tend to pull me up from my doldrums, alive to the possibility that even I, broken and fragile, scratched and showing my age, can make a difference, in His name, all year.
Nothing is too little to be loved…even me.
This year’s Barnstorming Advent theme “… the Beginning shall remind us of the End” is taken from the final lines in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”
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