As a girl, I loved the book The House Without a Christmas Tree. I understand it was a television special but I don’t remember having watched it. The book, however, I read, and reread, many times over. The grief of being motherless mirrored in the lack of a Christmas tree captivated me, no doubt because I could not imagine life without a mother nor, for that matter, a December without all the accoutrements of Christmas.
I had forgotten all about The House Without a Christmas Tree until this past December when it was my house without a Christmas tree or anything else festive decor related. No, no, we weren’t suffering from a tragic loss or anything like that. Rather, we moved and, upon moving in to our new home, we began a minor remodel. Nothing huge, just replacing flooring and installing ceiling fans, stuff like that. But it meant that our downstairs living space was for the most part uninhabitable during the month of December.
First world problems, I know. Actually upper middle class first world problems and I get that. But, as embarrassed as I am to admit this, I grieved the lack of a tree and the few other Christmas items I used to scatter about in a noble attempt at decking the halls.
It’s weird, isn’t it? I mean–and this is for all you longtime readers (anyone? anyone?)–just how many posts have I logged in at this site lamenting Christmas and my disdain for all its bells and whistles? I’ve labeled myself a Grinch and I’ve rather loudly and repeatedly announced my Yuletide hatred.
Not the baby Jesus part, mind you, I didn’t claim to hate that, but rather all the pomp and circumstance of the season: the tree and the decorating and the hustle and the bustle and the frenzied and frenetic pace.
But this year I didn’t hate it. I missed it. I was sad. I grieved.
I think maybe it had something to do with my boys growing up and the nest emptying. “It’s my second son’s last Christmas break at home!” I kept anguishing. I felt the pressure of wanting the perfect Norman Rockwell type scene, you know, the stuff they tell us memories are made of, especially when my Instagram feed was full of them. The sense of failure and inadequacy overwhelmed me, as we huddled upstairs out of the way of the workmen doing their work.
It’s silly, I know. But I confess as much to you because of something I read in Come, Let Us Adore Him, an advent devotional by Paul David Tripp. The December 16 entry begins with the following observation:
In truth, that beautifully decorated tree, wrapped presents, and all that tasty holiday food, which make us happy during the Christmas season, are poor representations of the world into which Jesus was born, and what his everyday life would be like. Jesus didn’t show up for a celebration. He wasn’t here for a vacation. His world wasn’t well decorated, and he surely wasn’t well fed. He came to a world that had been dramatically broken by sin, and his calling was to expose himself to the full range of its brokenness…Jesus came to suffer because he came to be our Savior.
Tripp goes on to say that there’s nothing wrong with the tree and the ornaments and the fabulous food; of course our celebration of the Incarnation of our Lord should be one of joy and jubilation. Yes! We’ve been saved by the lavish gift of grace granted to us by the Father in the life and death of His Son, glory to God!
And yet Tripp says our joy should be tempered, that we should commit ourselves to be “a sad celebrant.”
Let your joy at what your Savior has gifted you be mixed with grief at what it cost him. Remember this Christmas that you celebrating the birth of the ‘Man of Sorrows.’ Remember as you celebrate that the One whom you celebrate enjoyed none of the things that likely make up your celebration (a house, beautiful things, fine food, etc.). This Christmas may your holiday joy be shaped and colored by remembering that you have eternal reason for joy because of the life, death, and resurrection of your humble, willing, suffering Savior.
That last sentence,y’all. I was a sad celebrant, indeed I was, sad and resentful and jealous too, but only because I grieved the lack of what I thought constituted Christmas, stuff that in reality Jesus never had. I mean, I knew it intellectually. Of course Jesus didn’t drink wassail out of a matched set of Christmas mugs while gathered with his family in matching pajamas in front of a fake tree lit by strings of electric lights. I know that; I knew it last month. But seeing my grief for what it was–and what it wasn’t–this was sobering. And good. Thank you, Paul Tripp, for reminding me of true joy and rightly placed sadness.
Maybe it wasn’t the lack of decked halls that brought you grief this Christmas or on this chilly rainy day in January. Maybe you couldn’t even admit to being a sad celebrant, because celebrating seems so foreign to your current circumstance. May you and I both, however flimsy or weighty our grief may be, place our hope and joy in Christ. Let us ponder His sacrifice and His suffering and thank Him for coming to save us. Let us remember our eternal reason for joy: Jesus, our Savior, our Lord, our indescribable gift from God.