The Ugliest and the Prettiest
By David Lloyd of Blue Springs, MO, USA
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace… —Colossians 1:19–20 NRSV
Four years had passed since my father left our home and family in emotional and financial shambles. My mother had grown up with the belief that she would be the stereotypical late-1960s housewife. She now faced the realities of single parenting and finding a career in the early 1970s. My older sister had just secured her first job as a 16-year-old and planned to buy our first Christmas tree in four years.
My sister and I went to a tree lot and found some shabby trees in our price range in the back. One tree in a bargain bin looked especially full, tightly wrapped in white plastic netting. My sister handed over her hard-earned cash for the tree, and we dragged it home on my sled.
Our first try setting it up showed the trunk was too wide for our tree stand. After a few hours of sawing, it fit. Then the weight of the tree broke the stand. After another few hours fixing the stand, the tree was finally upright, and we cut it loose from the plastic netting. Branches sprang in all directions—one even cracked a window. What emerged was not a Christmas tree, but more of a bush—wider than it was tall.
At first, my sister, my mother, and I were frustrated and angry. This was NOT the tree we had waited years for—it was all WRONG! My sister’s gift resulted in a reminder of what we had lost rather than that which we tried to regain.
Then, mom placed an ornament on a branch—it looked ridiculous. My sister wiped the tear from her cheek and began to laugh. We added tinsel, twine to hold the tree upright in its broken stand, lights, and finally the star. As we darkened the room and turned on the tree lights—it was both the ugliest and prettiest sight ever.
When remembering past Christmases, our family remembers THIS Christmas with nostalgia and fondness. Much like the first Christmas, it was not a go-as-we-planned-it event. In our pain and loss, our family found purpose and hope in the ridiculous gift. We were now moving from where we had been to new possibilities. This “tree” became a symbol of how the expected Christ brings joy, love, and hope in unexpected ways—treasure in our unfolding lives.
Prayer for Peace
Compassionate God, help us know our present burdens are temporary, and that we may one day see them as transforming experiences. Help us find peace in our present circumstances so we may apply our efforts to Christ’s mission.
Spiritual Practice: Advent—Joy
Prepare room in your heart for the Christ child. Prepare room in your heart for joy. Think of the many ways you experience joy in the Advent season: lighted trees, bells, candles, lights, carols, special food, gift giving, time spent with family and friends—all part of celebrating the birth of Christ. Reflect on the many ways you can share joy in the Advent season: giving to those in need, making a place for everyone at the table, greeting strangers, helping others, being a presence. Continue your own list. Thank God for the joy you experience and the opportunities to share it.
Today, God, I will look again at a seemingly ugly or unwanted gift and find grace in the intent of the giver.