“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” (Philippians 3:12-14 The Message)
The day started out with a few wispy clouds floating across the sky. We had chosen a new place to search out our beloved Christmas tree. This would be our first Christmas together and we wanted the perfect tree. Cutting down a Christmas tree would become a family tradition. As we drove up the unfamiliar road, the once wispy clouds soon became a thick fog that made it difficult to see the road. As we drove, we kept following the signs to the chosen Christmas Tree Farm. The miles began to slip away and still no Christmas Tree Farm nor any new signs pointing the way. Had we missed a turn in the fog? Were those old signs from some previous year? Disappointment began to fill our hearts. My wife, Kristin, had that weekend off from the hospital and her next weekend off was two weeks away. Was our hoped-for tradition already in jeopardy?
As we continued to proceed up the mountain, we were exploring a place to turn around to head back down the mountain towards home when we came to a sharp corner. As we rounded the corner, the fog lifted and the sun shone. Immediately to our left was a large sign indicating “U-Cut Christmas Trees in 500 feet.” We had seen no previous signs for this farm, but willingly we pulled in.
Entering the parking lot, we noticed we were the only car there. An older woman came out to greet us, welcoming us to her farm. She gave us a guided tour and helped us pick the perfect tree. She then invited us into her home for some hot chocolate and conversation. As we loaded our perfect Christmas tree onto the roof of our car, she invited us back in the summer to visit her and to bring a picnic lunch that we could enjoy among her trees.
We left that farm with warmth in our hearts and a commitment to return in the summer. Tree branches hanging over windows, we knew this was going to be a great family tradition and a place we would return to again and again.
Fulfilling our commitment to return that summer, we drove up the mountain. We drove and drove. Every sharp corner we encountered we hoped was the one that would reveal our destination. Yet, nothing. No farm, no sign, no indication that such a place ever existed. Once again disappointed by the mountain we returned home, wondering if the tree farm had ever really existed. Was it a Christmas miracle; a mysterious tree farm you might encounter in a Hallmark Christmas movie?
Our desire to return to that wonderful Christmas Tree Farm never happened. The next year we moved to a new state and never returned to that mountain to continue to search. Yet the tradition of cutting down our own Christmas tree continued. Each time is a different adventure; a different memory. None of them the same, yet all are just as wonderful.
During the holiday season, we can be struck trying to repeat prior memories. Our desire to seek out the perfect gathering can cause us to miss the wonder of the present moment. This can also happen in our faith life together. We try to recreate a moment or a community that we knew in the past. We long for the memories of the past. Yet, Jesus warns us to keep pressing forward in our trust in God. For God does not meet us in the past but always acts in the present. For our God is a God of the living not the dead.
This holiday I invite you to enjoy all the fond memories of the past, while not missing the enjoyment and anticipation of the wonderful ways God’s presence and love are revealed in the present moments. For we press on, running with perseverance the race before us, knowing that in each step God’s blessings flow.
May God meet you this holiday season in wonderful and surprising ways.