It was my worst Christmas ever, and it all got ruined by a pine tree, laundry detergent, and some really good intentions.Rather than spend money on a Christmas tree, my dad decided it would be a good idea to hike through the forest behind our house and find one. After looking unsuccessfully for a while, we settled on a scraggly young pine tree, which we dragged to the house and propped against the air conditioning unit.
It was ugly.
Dad must have seen the disappointment on our faces, because he started brainstorming about how to spruce it up a little. That’s when he went inside to get the laundry detergent.
Dad whipped up a witch’s brew of detergent and water (maybe some flour too?) and began coating the Christmas tree with it. Then he took it inside for us to decorate and it was all downhill from there.
The Tree that Almost Killed Mom
Shortly after Dad placed the tree in the living room, my mom’s allergies began acting up, and they only worsened as Christmas approached. She told Dad she was certain it was the overpowering smell of the detergent emanating throughout our rental house, but he shrugged it off. By the time Christmas Day rolled around, Mom was so sick she could hardly get out of bed.
It was depressing. Mom looked horrible, she felt horrible, and there was a lingering sadness in our living room as she tried to enjoy watching us open our presents next to a tree soaked in off-brand detergent. She later told me she felt like she was going to die that day.
When Mom laid down to rest, the house went quiet; and I went to my room and shut myself in my closet. There inside, I buried my face in my hands, felt the hot tears come to my eyes, and said out loud, “This is the worst Christmas ever.” Hardly — 2,000 years ago a teenager named Mary suffered through a nightmare Christmas that far eclipsed anything I’ve ever been through at Christmas or otherwise.
Imagine it: You’re a teenage girl whose body is stretched to its limits, and you’re riding a donkey on a long trip, sliding off occasionally to relieve yourself — maybe vomit — alongside the road. What’s worse than all of that is knowing that back home, everyone is convinced you’re a promiscuous, immoral teen who got knocked up because she couldn’t wait until marriage to have sex.
You reach Bethlehem, where you have a baby without anyone monitoring your blood pressure or offering you an epidural. You’re just lying there pushing through the excruciating pain while you grip your fiancé’s shaking hand and nearly crush it.
You give one more hard push and out comes a baby, a gush of bloody fluid, and your placenta. Suddenly, a bloody, screaming child is pressed against your chest, looking for milk; and in that messy, unsanitary place, the most comforting thing is knowing you’re holding your Savior in your arms. What would have been a nightmare under any other circumstances is an encounter with God.
You never imagine that one day, hundreds of years later, your Son’s birthday will be a dark day for so many struggling with depression, that it will leave people feeling lonely, isolated from family, grieving all kinds of loss. And you never imagine that your life — your hard trek to motherhood — will offer comfort to those hurting people.
Jesus meets us in our own hard places where everything has gone wrong, where we’re humiliated and in pain, where we’re trying to figure out what to do next. He shows up in the unsanitary mess of our hearts and doesn’t leave. He is Immanuel, “God with us,” and 2,000 years later, we receive the same comfort as Mary — except now, instead of us holding Jesus, He is holding us.