So, of course, my mom bought one.
And, I know Charlie Brown’s sparse Christmas tree with a single red bulb ornament evokes a certain sort of nostalgia that reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas. But I was a teenager. I hadn’t lived long enough to acknowledge there is beauty in the broken. I still saw the world as two-dimensional. Black and white. Good or evil. Generous or selfish. Happy or sad. All of the color that exists between things just felt chaotic and confusing.
I had yet to reconcile how Jesus could be born a King in the midst of smelly farm animals or why he would love a bunch of sinners or give us free will to decide whether to love him back or why he would choose forgiveness over justice. Basically, I didn’t understand redemption, neither the ugly Christmas trees nor my own.
Over the years, I’ve experienced the way our sufferings — those unwelcome feelings of loneliness, loss, rejection, and disappointment can be transformed into something beautiful. I’ve seen how we become strong in our weakness; compassionate in our sorrow; and how hard times soften us. All of life’s brokenness that we don’t want, don’t deserve, and didn’t ask for, has a way of making us more whole when we let God’s love and mercy transform our suffering. We celebrate Jesus’s birth at Christmas and it is new and shiny and hopeful. But he didn’t come here to be shiny. He came to save. The reason we celebrate his life is that ultimately, he redeems ours with his death.
That’s heavy stuff to ponder when we can easily focus on stacks of presents, twinkling lights, or perfectly decorated Christmas trees. But I tell you it’s the best part of Christmas – this realization that redemption is continuously available to us. This knowing that with God there’s a place for misfits and that no matter what we’ve done or how far we’ve strayed, God isn’t going to isolate us on some snowy island. He’s going to embrace us with the warmth of his love. Transformation that adds color and dimension to the pieces of our hearts which have become flat and jaded is possible. This is the redemption that is born on Christmas Day and that is available to us throughout the year.
This is the redemption that I couldn’t recognize as a teenager but that I see all these years later when I think of my mom as a single parent taking me to pick out a tree. On the car ride home, we laughed about the mostly dead evergreen we just bought. We decorated it and with its gaping holes and spindly leaves, it stood as a lopsided witness to that year’s Christmas. All these years later it still stands in my memory – an ugly tree; a happy memory. In between, the birth of redemption.