In the first few years of our marriage, my wife and I went to a Christmas tree farm and picked up our Christmas tree. When I say, “picked up,” I mean we walked over the farm looking at dozens of trees until we decided on the one we liked. I then cut it down and dragged it to the front of the farm, where I paid the attendant before loading it into the truck we borrowed to get it home. At home, I shook the tree outside, trying to remove dead needles, and then pulled it through a doorway in our kitchen. This process alone resulted in a huge mess that we discovered our vacuum could not handle without plugging the hose. Once inside, we attached the stand and then tried to set it in place and make it straight. The first tree was the result of a six-hour adventure before we ever hung the first ornament. Then came the daily checking of the water and the growing concern of a fire hazard in the corner of our home.
The whole project was a hassle, and after the first year, we discovered we could not put it up until a week before Christmas, or the removal became piles of needles and hours of clean up. The second year went better, but the approaching baby was going to cause more issues. Finally, by year three, we bought an artificial tree and used it each year after that. We could put it up early and had no problem with water or needles while the whole thing is flame resistant.
Over time the artificial tree has given way to other store-bought greenery and flowers made of silk. Yesterday we even installed batteries into fake candles to use this Christmas. No longer do we have anything real that we use to decorate our house for the holiday season. To me, this is all just fine as it is safer, easier, and cleaner for our family.
My fear this time of year is that we have not only traded in our real trees for fake ones, but we have also exchanged our real joy for temporary smiles. The more Christmas becomes about the gifts, the food, and parties, the more artificial it becomes. This week is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, first and foremost. The message of the incarnation is that the long-awaited messiah came to earth to accomplish God’s work. We celebrate this because we live on the other side of his coming, death, and resurrection, and we know the blessings Jesus brings in his birth. The angel declared to the shepherds that night, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
If your Christmas feels artificial this year and full of fake smiles, it might be because you have missed the point. It is possible that you have exchanged the real Jesus for a plastic manger that has no meaning to you. If you want this to be the best Christmas of your life, then you need to rediscover Jesus and the work he came to do for us. Some things are better when they are fake, and joy is not one of them.