"…see your children gathered from west and east…for they went out from you on foot…but they will be brought back, carried in glory, as on a royal throne….The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him." - Baruch 5:5-6, 8-9
Parents who, like Israel, want fragrant trees to shade their households with joy this time of year will find this passage very familiar. You go out into the tree lot, the children running with delight, you following along behind with the sled. A while later—after much deliberation; maybe an argument or two about long versus short needles, tall and skinny versus short and fat; after somebody has knelt in the wet with a saw, snow slipping off branches and down the back of somebody's neck as they hack away at a trunk—the group comes back. And now, the children that went out on foot are being dragged back in the sled, tired but happy (or maybe grumpy), as on a royal throne. Then there's the tying of the tree on the car, the setting up in tree stand, the wrestling of boxes out of the attic, the unraveling of miles of lights.
And all for what? They that put themselves through the work of such rituals do it for one reason: delight. They do it so that the children, or so that they themselves, will experience a taste, just a taste, of the delight that Christmas promises and portends. They do it so that they, or their children, will get good at recognizing joy when it arrives, so that they have some practice under their belts at recognizing the good and the beautiful when it shows up in their lives. We do it to call that goodness into being. It's work, no doubt about it, this practicing for God, this learning to recognize the signs of God with us. It's cold feet and frustrated grunts and blown fuses, and sometimes you're right on the edge of declaring, "Never again."
But then, you turn off the house lights, and plug in the tree lights, and everybody uncovers their eyes. And there it is: glory right in your own living room. And life is full of delight, and the house is shaded with joy, and you're all just a little closer to the realm of God.
O God, I remember this. Oh yes, I remember this. Thank you.
Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.