People have very different ideas about Christmas trees. I’m a traditionalist. I don’t need my tree to be fancy, but I want it to be full of memories.
The ornament in the photo isn’t on my tree because it’s snoopy. If I’m honest, as an adult, Snoopy isn’t my favorite. He seems self-obsessed and completely ignores Charlie Brown’s pain. I think the best thing about dogs is their unconditional love and devotion. So a dog that lacks both of those things seems like a total failure to me.
But I haven’t always felt that way. When I got this ornament, I’d never read a Peanuts cartoon or seen a Charlie Brown movie. Snoopy was a cute, cartoon dog. Dogs were great. Cartoons were great. My older brother had a Snoopy doll with a red cape and SS emblazoned on his chest. Snoopy was a superhero. And how could I — the son of an Air Force officer — not admire Snoopy’s helmet, goggles, and fluttering scarf as he flew his Sopwith Camel? Snoopy was amazing.
That isn’t what this ornament represents, though. This ornament is on the tree because of the inscription:
My mom’s handwriting, “Cub Den 6, 1978.” I wasn’t old enough to be a Cub Scout in 1978, but my brothers were, and my mom was the den mother. One of my earliest memories is doing a craft with her at one of the meetings. This ornament is a reminder to me of that memory, of the other ornaments she picked out and carefully inscribed in the years that followed, even of the regular letters she wrote me in college. This tiny, little, painted piece of wood is a symbol of my mother’s love.
To me, that gets at the heart of Christmas. It’s easy to get distracted. We could talk about all the pagan traditions rolled into our celebration, Santa, rampant materialism… but we give gifts as a reminder, a symbol of the love of God.
John 1 opens the Christmas narrative symbolically:
In the beginning was the Word
He calls us all the way back to the creation of everything — the very beginning. The Word is an especially important symbol because of the way creation occurs. Genesis 1 tells us again and again that God created through the spoken word. The phrase “and God said” occurs 9 times, and in each case, God is speaking some aspect of our world into being… and that’s not even the only form. There are several other phrases used to describe God’s creation power manifest in words.
and the Word was with God
From the first, the Word was a part of creation. Together with God.
and the Word was God
But not only together, but a part of God and the Word are one.
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Lest there be any confusion here, John is explicitly clear about the importance of the Word. Nothing was made without the Word.
Continuing to mimic the creation account, the passage goes on to talk about the Word as light in the darkness. There’s so much going on here. He prophesies the rejection of Christ and the power of rebirth offered to all who accept him.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John makes his metaphor explicitly clear. The Word — the power that created the vastness of the universe, the infinite complexity of the human being with DNA the most technologically advanced storage mechanism ever imagined in every single cell — became flesh and dwelt among us. Can you imagine that?
Let’s pretend for a moment. Gal Gadot or Chris Hemsworth shows up for Christmas dinner tonight. Realistic? Why not? It’s fairly unimaginable because they’re big stars, so far outside our orbit that them taking an interest in us, being a part of our lives is almost unfathomable.
In that context look back at what John says. The power behind the creation of the entire universe became human to live with us. You and me. Tonight. Right now. There’s more to the story as we head toward Easter, but… just dwell here with me for a moment. It’s incredible. That’s what all of these gifts symbolize. The greatest gift that ever was.
It’s easy to miss in all the noise, just like you’d almost never notice that one tiny ornament on our tree. But it’s the whole point. Don’t miss it. Dig in. Embrace the unbelievable gift. Because it isn’t over. He still wants to know you. To live with you. Right now.