The great thing about being in an oppressively legalistic church is that you become very creative. You get to draw upon your sanctified imagination to maintain a front of over-comer holiness on the one hand and nuanced sensitivity that works around the system to get what you want on the other.
When my wife and I were engaged, Brother Serious reached out to us to go to a local coffee shop where they could share with us their experience and wisdom to help us in our forthcoming marriage. We met them on a Monday night. Brother Serious sat me next to him on his side of the table. Our wives sat on the other side. I looked up and saw that Brother Serious had sat me and him directly in front of a television set playing Monday Night football. I don’t think I actually learned (or even heard) anything about marriage but my wife did develop into a rather skilled wide receiver.
Some years later after the children were born, we left the the One True Church though the rules to some degree went with us. Our Sunday school class discovered that we had never had a Christmas tree and thus no ornaments so one evening they put together their used Christmas decorations and showed up unexpected to our house caroling. At last we could be like other families, form traditions, and even give our kids personalized ornaments for them to cherish. One of our boy’s personal ornaments is a sparkling Christmas tree that says, “Merry Christmas, Jennifer.”
Some years later, we moved across country to the mountains where Christmas trees are grown. We had still not gotten a Christmas tree of our own but we were miles away from the judgmental looks of the One True church. And we had a house that was large enough to accommodate. It was time for a rites of passage.
Everything was closed down on that Christmas Eve in our small town. We pulled into a deserted Christmas tree lot where all the trees had been sold. Over by the dumpsters were some discards. We looked up the street and down. We then flung open the hatchback, threw a discarded tree in, slammed the trunk and sped home. We pulled into the garage, closed the door, drew the blinds, put up “Merry Christmas, Jennifer”.
And we did us a Christmas tree.
Now that the kids are grown, we stopped doing Christmas trees. We figured that the annual ritual of decorating the house would be less work if we eliminated that one item. Further, being the materialists we are, we succeeded in covering every square inch of our once spacious house.
But there is a tradition that stayed. Each year, we put up an apple crate filled with hay. On Christmas morn, anatomically correct Baby Joey appears in the crate wrapped in a blanket to represent Jesus. Because this is the profound truth of the season. Not a philosophy. Not a moral code. Not a religion. Not a political system.
But a Person who stepped into time and space on that day two thousand years ago. And the One faithful believers believe will one day return in the same physical and tangible way.