The Touch of Grace at Christmas

Our first Christmas

Our first Christmas wasn’t outstanding since we didn’t have much money. We’d been married only six months, my husband had a part-time youth ministry and a full-time job, while I finished my senior year in college.

I focused on studying for finals and writing papers, not on decorating. The question popped into my head: could I bypass Christmas decorations this year? We’d be traveling to our parents for the holidays and wouldn’t be home. Practical logic said not to fuss about a tree.

However, after the studying was over, two days before Christmas, emotional need struck down practical logic. I decided I needed a tree for our very first Christmas together.

On December 23 we headed out to find a tree at 8 pm on a below-zero night. We quickly choose one of the remaining trees that was laying against a fence, bundled with twine. After paying a reduced price, we stuffed it in the backseat of our car — with the windows rolled down and the tree sticking out both sides, we shivered as we drove home. My heart was warmed because we had our first Christmas tree!

We dragged it upstairs to our apartment, leaving a trail of pine needles. Because we didn’t have money for extras, we borrowed ornaments, lights, and a tree stand.

We soon discovered our perfect tree was unique. The trunk curved to one side and then the other. The only straight part was the top section of the tree. No wonder it was still on the lot on December 23.

Because it wouldn’t stand up straight, we improvised using books under the legs of the tree stand for balance.

Tree + Kitten = Frustration

The joy of the tree turned into frustration when our little kitten delighted in climbing the branches of this indoor forest. More than once the cat jumped into the tree, knocked it off balance, and sent the lopsided tree crashing to the floor.

My heart was no longer warmed by the pathetic tree. It brought stress each time I had to clean up the mess and pine needles.

Isn’t that the way Christmas celebrations are? We hope for joy but have more stress than anticipated. My plan for a tree led to a mess. Unmet expectations lead to disappointment.

Disappointment can steal the joy of the gift of Christmas. We get disillusioned with the crazy pace of the season, with the lack of time and resources, and how people treat us.

We’re broken people needing a touch of grace.

At just the right time, God brought all the pieces of His redemption plan together, revealing the touch of His grace in history. Angels broke the good news to unsuspecting shepherds in the messy world. Curious Magi followed an unknown star to find the greatest joy.

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

God’s grace appeared in a manger as a helpless baby.

Christmas is not about God seeing how nice we were and coming to spend time with sweet people. It is the story of God seeing our pain and sin, coming to have a relationship with us. We can come to God with our stresses and disappointments. Grace is freely given.

One of my favorite Christmas shows is A Charlie Brown Christmas. When Charlie Brown chooses the scrawniest tree for the pageant, he is chastised by Lucy and all the other kids. He hangs one red ornament on it, causing the pine needles to fall off.

photo from pixabay

Disappointed and discouraged, he walks away from the tree that he had hoped would bring happiness.

The rest of his friends walk over to the tree.

Linus confesses, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. Maybe it just needs a little love.”

The kids work together decorating it, transforming it into a beautiful sight.

Isn’t that the way we view ourselves — scrawny and unloveable until we are touched by the beauty of God’s grace? On the outside, we like to show that we have it all together, but inside we hurt with pain, disappointment or bitterness.

We are made beautiful by the touch of God’s grace and love that came at Christmas. He takes our brokenness and creates new purpose and lasting joy.

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