Jesus told us to pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation’.
But every year my parents did what we asked God not to do—they led us into temptation. And temptation was called The Christmas Tree.
Every year, about four weeks before Christmas, our parents would drive us 20 kilometres down the road to a tree farm where, with saw in hand, we would stomp the grounds searching for the perfect Yuletide arbour. My family was a little different, in that the ‘perfect’ tree meant the ugliest on the lot. My parents said it was because they didn’t want the little tree to feel bad while all the others were being taken (kind of like that one kid who’s always picked last for team games), but I have a sneaking suspicion it had just as much to do with economics as aesthetics. The uglier the tree, the lower the price.
After cutting down the (usually) mottled tree, we would take it to the tree-man, who would shake out the excess pine needles while we had a cup of apple cider. Then, after tying the tree to the roof of the station wagon, we headed home, filled with delirious Christmas wonder.
It took us hours to hang every decoration we had onto the sparse branches. Tinsel and coloured electric light bulbs were placed last. The final touch? A cross-stitched angel to sit on top of the world’s ugliest Christmas tree.
Within days, though, the green and red skirting underneath the tree became laden with presents.
It is quite tempting to notice the packages, complete with name tags, and to open them beforehand. Temptation still reigns like that for me. Sometimes, especially with the big packages, I want to shake them, squeeze them or smell them to make sure they might be something to make my life happier.
But waiting until Christmas to open the packages is paramount to experiencing the best joy of Christmas. To ponder the mystery of what’s inside—that’s joyful expectation.
I think there is a temptation for many Christians to unwrap the swaddled infant Christ too quickly during Advent.
Instead of taking our time to understand the complexities of the story, the intricacy of the characters, and the development of God’s will in the lives of shepherds, angels and young couples, we bypass them all to get right to the gift of Jesus. In our hurry to see God’s ultimate gift, we miss out on the extreme earthiness of the Christmas story.
We miss out on the coarse life of the shepherds, overlooking their own running faith; we look past the angels’ message to a frightened young woman and her immense trust in a God who does things in an order we can’t even begin to comprehend. We miss out on a time of preparation that can set us on a beautiful course for the next year.
This Christmas, resist temptation to hurry through Advent. Soak it all in. Be patient in the Lord.
Reid Matthias is school pastor at Faith Lutheran College, Plainland, Queensland.