My family moved from Colorado to Wisconsin just weeks before my sophomore year of high school. I eventually made some really wonderful friends, but the first months were very lonely. On Christmas morning that first Wisconsin winter, my dad gave me an intricate and slender ceramic ballerina Christmas ornament. It was gift thanking me for “being so graceful, even during a really hard few months.” It was simple gift, encouraging and full of such love. I got up to give my beloved dad a hug. But as I stood up, somehow I dropped my beautiful ballerina ornament, breaking her head right off. Maybe not quite so very graceful, after all.
The story has been retold among my family nearly as many times as I’ve attempted to glue the ornament back together. So now I just place the pieces of that ballerina on a little bed of tissue paper on a flat branch of our tree. I get wistful seeing her, missing my late father. Sparkling lights shine on that broken ornament, as it lies next to a silly looking angel my daughter made with dried pasta and ornaments collected over the decades.
I could spend hours looking at our Christmas tree. There’s a story hanging on every one of those branches. And there’s a whole lot of joy there. But there’s also room on that tree for my little broken ballerina; room for my own grief among the delight. Somehow it all fits together, maybe it makes that tree even more beautiful.
It’s true for us this Christmas season. There’s room to feel both delight and sorrow, joy and heartbreak. For many who step into this holiday season with grief over all kinds of loss, the delight and wonder of this season might feel completely dissonant. But the angels came to the shepherds on that first Christmas night, not only saying a dazzling “glory to God!” but also a comforting “do not be afraid, a child is born for you.” We worship a Savior born in a humble stable, surrounded by both poor shepherds and wealthy wise men. If there’s room for both the sparkle of gold and the smell of sheep, there’s room for all that we bring to worship, too.
On Christmas Eve, we’ll sing about fields and flood, rocks, hills and plains repeating the song of joy and shepherds prolonging their joyous strains, inspired by that heavenly song. We’ll also sing about how the hopes and fears of all our years are met in Jesus, who is love’s pure light, brings the dawn of grace into the darkness of our lives. There’s room for all of us, with all the complex and contradictory things that we carry, around the Christ Child.
After all, this season isn’t really about perfectly glittering trees or people – it’s about God being born right into the fullness of human life, with all our joys and sorrows, worries and hopes. The gift of love that we know as Jesus is why we sing, smiling with tears in our eyes.
–Sara Olson-Smith, associate pastor