The two best Christmas presents I have ever gotten were not under the tree. They were in a maternity ward—one in Texas and the other in Carrollton. Our two children, Tyler and Natalie, came into this world in December (21st and 5th), without the standard Christmas wrapping. With each child I jumped for joy like a five-year-old on Christmas morning.
The third best Christmas present I have ever gotten, I got a few years ago. (OK, maybe the go-cart I got when I was a kid was better, but not by much.) The gift that I got that rivals a go-cart was an artificial Christmas tree—and a pretty one at that.

I have yearned (yearned is a good December word that I would not use any other time of year) for one for years. I have begged, nagged, and complained about real Christmas trees. My complaints have been, first of all, about the process of getting a real tree. We couldn’t seem to pick out one without fussing. Do you fuss over the tree? “It’s too tall; it’s too wide.”

Once we decided on one, we stuffed it in the trunk and knocked over several mail boxes on the way home because the tree was bigger’n Alpharetta, and thus bigger’n our trunk. Once home, I tried to get the dad gum thing in a tree stand. We have a four-screw stand which is great until you turn that last screw, and then the tree tilts towards Bethlehem. After it tilts, we would have the family fuss over whether to start over with the screws or put a magazine under the lower side, just like mama used to do. Guess how far that got me?

Once the tree was up, then came the lights? Who knocked out the one light so that now none of them work? Are we having fun yet?

And then, of course, it died on December 15 because it drank water like a camel, and there was not enough water in Carroll County to satisfy it. Shed needles from the dried-out tree would get stuck in my bare feet till about mid-February.

So, for these reasons, and countless others, I have wanted an “all is calm,” no drama Christmas. My answer has been that we need an artificial tree. (For those of you who like the real tree drama, good for you. I am not in the least bit jealous.)

Well, we got one. I got an artificial tree a few years ago as an early Christmas present, and I could not have been happier.

This proves the adage, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” or, “the one who nags for years finally wears down his family to the point of surrender.” True, it doesn’t smell like a real tree. For that I will buy some “pine-scented” air freshener.

So, I am having a great artificial Christmas season. You know where this sermon is headed, don’t you? The “real” Christmas story is anything but artificial. Mary and Joseph in a barn and not a maternity ward is about as real as it gets. Baby Jesus cried real tears. Mom and dad had real anxiety about taking him home and raising him.

I think that the more real and transparent we are, the closer we find ourselves to God. Vulnerability, maybe, is the best pathway to faith.

However, “Joy to the World” for me, came not “wrapped in swaddling clothes” (whatever those are), but in the form of a plastic tree. Can I get an “amen”?

And by the way, the best hyphenated word in the English language is “pre-lit.”

~Pastor Steve

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