The Beauty of an Ugly Christmas Tree
- Friday, December 14, 2007
Every December, my family works hard to decorate our Christmas tree. First, we lovingly string lights around it. Then we carefully unpack the ornaments we’ve collected over the years and search the tree for just the right branches to hang each one. After the work of filling the entire tree with decorations is done, we step back to take in the view.
It always looks so … ugly.
None of the colors coordinate well, the hodgepodge of ornament sizes and shapes don’t mix, and the tree droops from the weight of just plain too many decorations. The sight of our Christmas tree certainly wouldn’t thrill you, like those gorgeous, professionally decorated ones at your local mall. In fact, if you laid eyes on our Christmas tree, you’d probably shake your head and turn away before you got too much of a headache from looking at it.
But we love every one of those ornaments that make our tree ugly, because they each tell a story of how beautifully God has worked in our lives.
There’s the cheesy “Baby’s 1st Christmas” sled ornament with fake red and green booties attached, in eye-popping colors that make me want to squint. But every time I see it, I remember when our son Justin was born just before Christmas, and our whole family had to spend Christmas in the hospital as a result. We couldn’t visit family to exchange gifts, look at Christmas lights, attend a concert, bake cookies, or even go to church that Christmas weekend. Stripped of opportunities to celebrate in traditional ways, we simply spent time in a sterile hospital room thinking and praying about the first Christmas when the baby of all babies – Jesus – was born. The tacky sled we got to commemorate that year reminds me that God’s presence is always near, no matter what the circumstances.
Then there’s the star my daughter Honor made in kindergarten by gluing dry macaroni noodles to cardboard and spray painting it gold. At first, this ornament actually was pretty attractive, as homemade ornaments go. But every year we’ve taken it out of its storage box, we’ve found that more and more noodles have fallen off, leaving awkward gaps and dried smudges of glue underneath where the noodles used to be. This star has become an eyesore, but it reminds us of how the days of Honor’s childhood fall away as she keeps getting older. And whenever I see that bedraggled cardboard star, I think of how I need to treasure the time I have with her.
A clothespin reindeer with brown pipe cleaner antlers peers down from our tree with googly eyes and reminds me of the time we made it with some seniors at a retirement home. That December, the girls from the scout troop I helped lead made dozens of those cartoonish reindeer with the seniors after singing Christmas carols with them. The reindeer we kept brings back memories of the laughter the seniors and girls shared while working together – and how God can use even the simplest acts of service to accomplish something great.
Every time I glance at the tacky plastic angel figurine on our tree, I recall the fun we all had on the family vacation during which we bought it. This angel, whose cheap paint has chipped and whose halo is now crooked, definitely doesn’t call to mind the glory and grace of the real thing. But it does remind me of how God protects us from evil every day, whether we’re driving on the highways and hiking in the wilderness as we did on that trip, or whether we’re simply going about our everyday lives.
The prize for the most horrible looking of all the ornaments on our tree should probably go to a large paper-maché ball I’d saved from my own childhood in the 1970s. I made it with my mom shortly after my parents divorced, and it looks angry (like I was then), with bits of painted newspaper strips sticking out at odd angles. But when I look at it now, I see how God’s grace transformed the mess of my life into something much better.
What kinds of ugly ornaments does your family have? Do you consider throwing them out, but hesitate? Do you keep them stored away in boxes? Do you hang them on the tree, but only at the back where they’re mostly hidden? Or do you display them all prominently on your tree, no matter what they look like?
So often, we’re tempted to sprinkle the glitter of the Christmas season over our lives and try to make them seem like they shine like beautiful ornaments. But even if the shiny images we project impress some people, they don’t impress God. He knows who we really are – and He loves us anyway. In fact, it’s often in the ugly places of our lives that God does the most beautiful work. Whether our families have experienced conflicts, failures, illnesses, disappointments, addictions, losses, or any other kind of struggle, we can count on God to transform the messy into the magnificent if we ask Him.
When God came to Earth as Jesus that first Christmas, He chose an ugly place – a dark and smelly animal stable in a small town – to make His grand entrance. Since God wasn’t concerned with appearances, you don’t need to be, either.
Take another look at those ugly Christmas decorations you have, and consider what stories they tell. Then go ahead and display them on your Christmas tree this year. You won’t have the most attractive tree, but that’s okay. If it makes your family smile, it’ll be beautiful!
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