When The Christmas Lights Are Gone
Published 4:30 pm Thursday, December 23, 2010
The Christmas lights will soon be gone.
Packed up and put away for another year.
Greens and reds. Gold and silver.
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All the lights of Christmas.
Blinking lights and those that refused to blink, no matter how hard we tried.
All the lights carefully twined up and put back in storage, to come out mysteriously tangled 12 months from now, no matter how neatly we store them away.
The delicate ornaments are safely secured in boxes with paper to keep them from breaking.
Ornaments filled with memories from other Christmases.
An ornament from your first Christmas as husband and wife, another from the Christmas you first shared as parents to your son or daughter.
Our Christmas trees will be stripped of decorations, taken down and hauled off, some recycled-the centerpiece of family life for much of December treated more or less like trash.
The lights, ornaments and Christmas Tree will soon follow in the wake of wrapping paper, ribbons and bows from Christmas morning, that first flurry of an opened present before the snow-storming blizzard of confetti-like rapture as everyone opened this present and that one, and then all of them, or so it seemed, all at once.
Everything cleaned up.
And then it's back to the business of living.
But let's be careful now.
Let's be certain.
Let's know for sure that we haven't thrown away any part of God's Christmas gift to us, even just a little bit, by mistake.
Or packed up the message Christ brings, perhaps with the lights, or maybe the ornaments. In the boxes marked “Christmas ornaments” stored until next year in the attic, the basement or the closet at the end of the hall.
It is oh so easy to do.
No, you say, we could never do that.
We would never do that.
How could we miss God's gift?
How could we not notice the absence of Jesus by our side?
Surely, Mary and Joseph felt the very same way when they traveled to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.
But, as we can read from the Gospel of Luke, Mary and Joseph began traveling home and their 12-year old son was not with them.
Like many 12-year olds, Jesus had a mind of his own and it was not synchronized with the departure plans of his parents.
And so Mary and Joseph left without their son, assuming he was there, somewhere, in the group traveling down the road away from Jerusalem.
In fact, they traveled an entire day before realizing they had not seen their son since being in Jerusalem.
If Mary and Joseph could pack up and leave Jerusalem without Jesus, it's easier for us to pack up God's gift and Christ's message without realizing it.
Traveling out toward the rest of the year.
Back to our daily lives.
Back behind the steering wheel.
Behind the desk, back to work in the office or the home.
Mary and Joseph searched three days in Jerusalem before they found Jesus, and we can easily imagine their panic, looking here and there, fearing the worst. As parents, always fearing the worst.
An entire city to search with just their eyes and ears.
No cell phones. No text-messaging. No Blackberry held in the palm of their trembling hand.
Our search is so much easier. Or so it seems.
We must look only into ourselves, our own hearts. There, Jesus waits for us to find him and his message of God's unconditional love-that amazing gift.
A gift we can too easily throw away, some or all of it, without even trying, picked up and tossed into the trash with all the other wrappings and trappings of the rush-tumbling, mile-a-minute holiday season that is Christmas in this fast-paced spinning world.
A few years back my wife Kim and I received a large box containing a Christmas present from my parents who had moved to Florida.
This massive box contained a large oil painting by my mother, a painting of all of us whitewater rafting while on vacation the previous summer.
A wonderful painting and a wonderful gift.
We carefully hung the painting on the wall and threw the box away, along with all the rest of the wrapping paper, boxes, ribbons and bows.
And we then called my parents to say 'Thank You' for the painting.
My mother was glad we enjoyed the painting and asked about the other gift.
What other gift?
Oh by gosh by golly, it was time for panic, not mistletoe and holly.
There had been something else in that great big box. Something quite small. Something that had gone unnoticed. A small thing to be treasured.
I got in the car and drove straight to the dumpster site, grappling through the mountainous sea of boxes, ribbons and bows thrown away by other families.
I could have made a list. I could have checked it twice and not for a second would I have found “rummaging through a dumpster on Christmas morning” at the top or the bottom of that Christmas wish list.
Thankfully, I found the box and, carefully pulling out the torn wrapping paper, ribbons and bows we'd stuff inside for easier clean-up and hauling to the dumpster, I found the precious gift for Kim.
Suddenly, that dumpster was just where I wanted to be. I'd found a piece of Christmas I feared was thrown away and lost forever.
Perhaps today you are certain that nothing of God's gift will be boxed up and put away with the Christmas decorations.
No syllable of Christ's message packed up or, worse still, thrown out with the torn ribbons, bows and wrapping paper into the dumpsters.
And you may be correct. But that may change in a month or six months.
If on a day in July that feels more like winter because of the coldness you feel in the world, and the chill it spreads inside your heart, you realize that something of God's gift has been thrown away or packed away, do not despair.
It is there in your heart.
A tricky place, sometimes.
Yes, even our own hearts can sometimes seem like a maze as we search for Christ's message of God's gift of unconditional love.
Do not despair.
As the prophet Jeremiah said, “With weeping they shall come, and with consolation I will lead them back.
“I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble…I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.”
Mourning into joy.
Gladness for sorrow.
Much better gifts than a pair of socks.
And there is never any need to return the joy which comes from God's unconditional love in exchange for something in a different size or shape.
God's love fits us all. From the top of our head to the soles of our feet.
So whether the rush and bustle of the holidays finds you throwing out some of the meaning of God's great gift of unconditional love, revealed through Jesus Christ…
Or should some tangled turn of life cause you to feel that God's love has been thrown away, do not worry.
You will find it. The gift is there, waiting. Always.
Even the sparrow finds a home, the Psalmist sings to us, and the swallow a nest for herself.
So do not despair. God's unconditional love waits to fill you to the brim and if you misplace any little bit of it, don't worry.
God doesn't make us rummage through actual dumpster sites.
Only our own hearts.
That is the only place we must look.
But life can sometimes make us feel thrown away.
Some hurt or pain.
An illness or the loss of a loved one or a lost job which makes us feel trashed, crumpled up and tossed aside into a dumpster, and we are left picking up broken pieces and torn understandings of what life had seemed to mean.
Dirty and dark. Smelly and soiled.
And we can seem, sometimes, so awfully left alone, no recycling possible, a tree that has held aloft its last shining star.
No more lights.
Not another decoration.
Life can be like that. Without a moment's notice.
Have no fear at such a crossroad.
God is right there with us. And Jesus too.
Wherever we are. Whatever we are going through. We are, not ever, no never, alone.
“Why were you searching for me?” Jesus might ask us, just as he did his parents.
As Jesus asks us this question, there is a smile on his face. A gentle turning upward at the corners of his mouth, the wrinkling of skin at the corner of each eye, eyes that are filled with nothing but love, God's love for each and every one of us.
There, standing in a dumpster, or in a living room, beside a desk or behind a counter, Jesus is standing right there with us.
“Did you not know,” he gently continues, explaining his presence by our side, “I must be in my Father's house?”
A house filled with the priceless treasure that is God's gift of unconditional love for all of us.
A house that is deep within our own beating hearts.
A house filled with the true Christmas light, ever-shining.