I am the laziest holiday decorator in the world. Christmas is the only season for which I even make a humble attempt, and my decor collection is a hodgepodge of stuff I’ve gathered over the years: things I’ve found at thrift stores; a few things I’ve paid actual money for; things my kids made; and mostly, gifts from beloved church folks from across my ministry years. Somehow it all comes together and is exactly right, exactly us– but I promise you’ll never see it on a magazine cover.
As lazy as I am about putting decorations up, I am even lazier when it comes to UNdecorating. The putting away of things. Come Jan 2 (or thereabouts, Ephiphany-ish, whenever), in a mad rush to get into January and get it over with, we tend to just take everything down and cram it into a couple of plastic bins, resolving to just not think about it again until after the following Thanksgiving.
If you know me at all, this will not surprise you. What is surprising is that so many of our ornaments have survived so many years in such storage systems, and so many moves across state lines. It’s a miracle, really, that we have Christmas stuff at all.
All this means that decorating day usually must begin by reckoning with Ghosts of Christmas past… Where did we put that one thing, and I thought there were two of these, and where’s the other piece of this? Or, as it happened this year– why did we not take the dead lights off of the tree last year before we put it away?
Because of course we didn’t… and so, before we could get to the fun of hanging ornaments, I had to first wrestle about half of the pre-strung lights off of the tree. This is how they get you, you know– the retailers that sell you those beautiful, easy, already lit trees?– they arrange those endless cords around those tiny branches in a tedious maze of holiday stress, so that when the first few bulbs go out, you will inevitably start a family argument, make your tween cry, and end up just throwing the whole mess to the curb and go buy a new tree. Play this on repeat every few years for eternity.
But they’re not going to get me like that, is what I’m saying. Okay yes, I might have made my tween cry. But then, I persevered. I got the blasted broken lights off. I restrung the middle of the tree with a fresh string (which will be easily removed before going back to the basement for a long winters’ nap). And we proceeded to hang all of our unmatched, non-color-coordinated, never-magazine-worthy but always-loved assortment of ornaments, and admired our work.
For about 5 minutes. Until the top of the tree went out too.
Now, I might be the laziest home decorator in the history of the world. And yes, it might be a Very Pandemic Christmas this year with zero chance of guests coming over to see my half-assed tree. But even I, with my holiday heart three sizes too small, like to have the whole tree lit. It doesn’t seem like much to ask, when nothing else will be as usual this year, to have lights that go all the way to the top.
My first reaction was to spiral into a universe in which I had to un-decorate the top section of tree; take apart said tree; unwind and untangle the pre-strung lights from this new territory; go buy new lights (again); wrap them around the upper branches; hang the new lights; connect them to the old lights; and then re-decorate the top part again. Maybe I can make BOTH my kids cry this time!
I watched a few hours of my life circle the drain as I visited that scenario.
But then I regrouped. I remembered that I am resourceful, and resilientAF, and many times in life– and here’s where I’m about to preach a schmaltzy sermon for Advent 1– we already have what we need.
So I climbed up on my step ladder; I unplugged a few things; I stretched out the new strand of lights that I had just added to the middle section of the tree; and I started working it around the upper branches. And all I can tell you is that, somehow, my small faith enacted a loaves-and-fishes/water-to-wine/oil-in-lamp kind of miracle situation on that one string of lights from the Walgreen’s Black Friday sale… Because those lights that had once covered a single section of tree now reached all the way to the top.
What do you know about that.
It’s a weird year, I know. We get upset and fall apart about things that are not all that important sometimes– because it’s not really about that thing, is it? It’s about the world as we know it, falling apart around us. It’s about a long wilderness season that’s made us all weary. It’s about grieving the things that have to die away before something new can be born. We’re tired. We’re anxious and uncertain. We’ve been strung too thin.
But on this first Sunday of Advent, we remember: that prophets before us have walked this wilderness too–always keeping the light. We remember that God’s promises stretch to cross every chasm of time and circumstance. And we remember that, so very often, we already have everything that we need.
Even in the darkness.