Our Christmas tree is empty.

For 26 years, our family has decorated a Christmas tree.  However, for some reason – and none of us truly really know why – we have left the Christmas tree empty this year.

We have been traveling more this year than ever before. We safely went on vacation. We spent a weekend in New York giving a pastor a week off from preaching. We celebrated the beautiful wedding of some great friends.

Yet, we realize we could have carved out some time to throw on some decorations – but we didn’t.

We could point to work, as responsibilities and tasks pile up. Anyone working in the nonprofit world knows the craziness surrounding the end of the year. From giving campaigns to end-of-year decisions, hours dedicated to preparations and celebrations dwindle very fast.

Again, though, we probably could have stayed up a little late one night to put some things on the tree – but we failed to.

A tall, skinny Christmas tree without ornaments.

(Photo: Mitch Randall)

So, I stand in the living room each morning staring at an empty tree. There are a few small lights on it, but they came with the tree.

As I turn them on each morning, they softly glow, revealing undecorated branches and bare spots where I forgot to fluff. And for some reason, I stand there staring at it.

Maybe the tree is revealing my soul these days, feeling empty and bare after two years of the pandemic with no end in sight. Maybe it’s the state of the economy with so much uncertainty about the future.

Maybe it’s politics as the country spirals downward towards the abyss of partisanship. Maybe it’s the racism that continues to emerge from the shadows with renewed vigor.

Maybe it’s the fact that it’s been tough to reconnect with folks after the last two years, making many still feel very isolated and alone.

Or, just maybe, the empty tree symbolizes something else.

What if my empty tree symbolized an opportunity? What if I decided it was not too late? What if I decided to fluff away those bare spots? What if I got the bulbs out?

What if I pulled out the handmade family ornaments, remembering each one with fondness?   What if I unpacked the colorful decorations, allowing their brightness to once again fill my soul with beauty?

What if I decided the empty tree was not the reality I was willing to accept, so I embraced the possibility to create a new reality – one filled with wonderful memories and the beauty of this season?

If I choose to do that, then I would be in good company. If the Christmas story teaches us anything, it reveals the promise of a new reality in the midst of potential despair.

An unwed mother. A poor carpenter. A long journey. Taxes. No room. A stable. Animals. Potential maternal mortality. Potential infant mortality. Darkness. Emptiness.

Then, light. A star. Newborn cries. Newborn coos. Swaddling clothes. The smile of a loving mother. The beaming grin of a proud father. The curiosity of animals. Angels. Shepherds. Singing. Beauty. Hope.

With just three days left until Christmas, I have some work to do. While the empty tree looks beautiful in the morning, I realize I need color and joy in my life.

May each one of you find the light, beauty and color of this season. May your empty trees be filled with love and hope.

May we come together this Christmas to realize we do not have to accept the realities before us, but through the love and hope of this season, a new reality can begin.

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