Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
For at least 13 years of our married life, the Christmas tree which ‘graced’ the living room could have been kindly described as ‘past its best’. Despite annual plans and promises to replace it, we never got round to it and so sure enough this year it was dutifully unpacked and set up. Except it wasn’t, as its wonkiness had gotten worse and it was finally put out of its artificial misery.
And so we embarked on a family adventure – to find a new Christmas tree. We found a local place where you could go into the field where the trees had been growing for years and choose your very own tree, place your family name tag on it and have it cut down to take home. And so we did. (As a side note, whilst I recommend this as a good family activity, and one we’ll be repeating, please heed my warning that it becomes *very* difficult to spot the difference between any trees when you’re walking down row after row of them!)
Anyway, I digress. So, tree selected and duly felled, we took it home. As is one of our family ‘things’, we gave it a name: Marcus. Marcus was suitably decorated and took pride of place in the living room. He was a magnificent tree. Great shape, full body, good distance between branches without appearing scrawny at the top. A real hit.
In fact, Marcus may have been a little too good. Appropriately provided his “one to two litres of water per day” in accordance with the tree wrapper’s instructions, he looked like he was thriving. He dropped hardly any needles and stayed a really good colour. The Christmas season came and went, and still Marcus stood resplendent. The decorations came down, the nativity scene was packed away and the cards were sorted, and Marcus remained. He appeared to be full of life. So much so, in fact, that he earned himself a reprieve from being taken to the tip for an extra few days.
But here’s the rub. Marcus wasn’t fine. He wasn’t doing as well as he looked to be. In fact, Marcus was dying. When we’d selected him and placed our tag on him, he was chopped down, disconnected from his source of life. He may have stayed a good colour for a while; his looks may have deceived an onlooker as to his true state, but he wasn’t actually living, he was dying.
Connection is essential for life.
Even more essential for you and I than it was for Marcus. We weren’t created to be independent, disconnected beings, but to know and to benefit from connection – with God and with one another.
The very first occasion God spoke in a less than positive way about something was when he looked at the man He had created, the one with whom He had relationship, and saw him there alone, with no connection to other humans. God’s view? He declared: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)
Being made in God’s image means we’re intrinsically wired for community. We need others; we fail to thrive without them. It’s not good for us to be alone. We know that our ultimate life source is God Himself, but in His wisdom and kindness, He’s made us so that we play a role in supporting, encouraging and challenging one another.
I need you.
And here’s bad news… you need me!
When we’re saved, we’re saved into a family. Yes, this imperfect, bunch of broken misfits – ragamuffins, even - that we call church need each other.
We need one another to support, to cheer on, to point the way. We need each other to walk alongside and to carry the loads at times.
At a time when lockdowns and restrictions promote separation and isolation, we need to find the courage and creativity to seek new ways of moving towards one another, showing love to one another, caring for one another.
Some may look like they’re ‘doing alright’. Some may not take the initiative to ask for help or to make their struggles known. Imagine what it would look like if we didn’t just wait for someone to ask for help or put words to the aches of their soul but instead took the initiative in moving towards and showing care and compassion before then. Marcus looked like he was doing alright but was really dying. Others in the family of God may be doing the same.
As we begin to head towards the one-year anniversary since the imposition of Lockdown 1.0, there are some who are feeling it very acutely. Maybe you’re one of them.
So, I close with a challenge. The challenge is not my own, but one penned by a man who spent time up close and personal with Jesus. His name was John and he wrote:
“…let’s not merely say that we love one another; let us show the truth by our actions.”
Could you show your love as you move towards someone today? Make a call, write a letter, send some flowers? Our care – or otherwise – for one another speaks volumes.
What do your actions say? What message do they preach to a watching world?
Despite the mantra found in Simon and Garfunkel’s mid-60’s anthemic declaration: “I am a rock, I am an island”, you’re not. Neither is the person whose name is before yours in the church directory. They need you. You need them. Maybe in ways you or they don’t even know. Possibly never will. But they do, and so do you. It’s how the Creator made it.
So reach out. Connect. Love beyond comfort. Love at cost.