I need to tell you a story…it seems half real and half dream. It happened after Christmas, on a day just like today. My story is called: “Dismantling Christmas.”
Dismantle? That’s a strong Word. It’s from the late 16th century, from the Old French word: desmanteler. Des expresses reversal, and manteler means “fortify.” It means to destroy a defensive capability or fortification.
You see, woven right into our post-Christmas tradition is an opportunity to celebrate dismantling. Maybe it is better to say that we can celebrate the power of brokenness.
There’s a common tradition that many of us usually put off…it’s taking down the Christmas tree…it’s dismantling Christmas.
The day finally came when it had to be done…to be honest it happened when I was in a mood. Not a good one at all. The Christmas spirit had gone awol…no sugar plum fairies…no aroma of chestnuts roasting…the figgy pudding was gone! I was not happy to be taking down our Christmas tree.
It wasn’t at all like when we decorated the tree. Our Christmas tree decoration comes with great fanfare. There was a fire crackling and music playing…”It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!”
We had hot chocolate and special cookies. I love finding Aunt Mary’s antique ornaments and placing them in just the right spots for the greatest visibility. I love the ornaments that bring back memories of our children and trips that we’ve taken as a family.
Decorating the tree is all joy…taking down the tree is…NOT…
You can imagine my surprise when I wasn’t alone in our living room with our tree. You can choose not to believe this, but Jesus was there, standing by the fireplace. It looked like He wanted to help me dismantle Christmas.
In fact Jesus climbed the small ladder and reached to the top to take down our star. I don’t know whether it was the glare from the recessed lighting, or a ray of sun from the window…but I could barely see his face as he reached for that star.
He was brilliant…radiant…a light Himself.
As he took that star in His hand, I squinted just so that I could see His face. At once I remembered that He came to this earth as a light and the Bible says that men chose darkness instead of the light.
I started thinking about other men…really bad men…like Hitler…
But then I remembered my own choices. I felt that inside of me, there is a love for darkness.
I didn’t dwell there long…I didn’t want to.
I pushed those feelings down…built up my fortress. I thought about all the good things I’ve done…and I started feeling strong again.
I took the star from Jesus and placed it in its box. Jesus didn’t even pause. He went right for the ornaments. I watched Him reach for the red Christmas ball in the center of the tree. It was my favorite. It was old, but beautiful. He took that red ball off the tree with care, it’s almost as if he knew it was Aunt Mary’s.…
I watched him with the red ball…it was like everything went in slow motion in my mind.
I started to see flashbacks to a very different scene. From reaching from the red Christmas ball, to the garden of Gethsemane.
I could see Him kneeling in that garden. He was in agony as He wrestled with the reality of the cross. “If there is any other way…but not my will but Yours, Father, be done.”
I remembered that in the Bible it says that Jesus sweat was like great drops of red blood that night in Gethsemane. I also remembered how alone He was that night. If only His friends had stayed awake with Him in prayer. I thought about my own weaknesses in prayer….
Fortify Richard…don’t let Him see your weaknesses…
Before I knew it, Jesus was done with the ornaments and ready to take down the strings of garland strung around the tree. As he reached for the top strand on our tree, I could see the form of His back in the white robe he was wearing. He tossed the first four feet of garland behind him and as it landed on His back, I could actually hear it…the crack of the whip the guards used after Christ’s mock trial.
As Jesus pulled down the garland, I could see the stripes that were put on His back. The violence made me turn away. I had to pull it together. I focused on Graham’s toys and thought about other things. It was beginning to be too much. I really didn’t want Him there any more.
But I heard the scripture that I knew so well…
“By His stripes you are healed.”
By the time I could get it together and refocus on our tree, Jesus was reaching for the lights.
As He circled the first string of lights in his hand, I could not believe how much they looked like a crown of thorns. I saw the wicked men pushing down that crown onto his brow. I saw the blood streaming down His face. I was now taking each scene very personally. I felt like I was in them with Him.
Jesus now invited me to participate with Him. I reached into the tree to move it outside. He reached for the top of the truck, while I reached in to the bottom of the trunk. As I did, I felt the prick of a needle on my hand.
I just let the visions happen now. I couldn’t fight it anyone. I became defenseless.
His hands were stretched out onto the beam of the cross. The sound of the massive hammer hitting the steel was relentless.
I looked with disbelief into His eyes and I shook my head. I caught a glimpse of His hand on the tree trunk. It was there, the mark of His suffering.
While at the base of the tree, I saw how empty the bowl under it was. It was once filled with water, but now completely dry.
I heard His cry: “I thirst”
We took that tree outside and laid it on our lawn. Was that the same tree that glowed on Christmas morning?
It looked so much smaller…some branches were completely void of needles. It was lifeless.
As I stared at that lifeless tree, I saw in my mind the Pieta…the statue by Michael Angelo of Jesus lifeless body in the lap of His mother.
I don’t know how long I stayed outside, I lost track of the time.
When I walked back into the living room, I was alone again. I stared where the tree had been. Back in the corner, under the corner of the skirt that covered the base. I saw something shining. A small box with silver paper and a bright red bow.
It was an unopened gift…it had been hidden by all the decorations. No one had seen it until Christmas had been dismantled.
I wept as I held that gift. I thought that is how salvation comes…
Our fortifications must fall…
Our self-interest must be stripped away…
Our boasting must be broken…
Our defensiveness dismantled.
The real gift of Christmas comes in the dismantling.
I wondered how many missed the greatest gift of all because of all that decorates Christmas.
I’ll never look at taking down the Christmas tree the same. The fortified Christmas must be dismantled to get to the real reason for
Christmas. Once you clear away the ornamental, you can see the real gift.
You find the beauty in brokenness…
Beauty in Brokenness – Isaiah 61:1-3
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.