As a little girl, I loved reading old-time stories about Yuletide. One of the traditions mentioned in those favorite tales was that after parents put little ones to bed the night before Christmas, they’d go to work making magic in what had been a simple family room. When boys and girls awakened in the morning, they’d tiptoe downstairs to find the parlor softly lit by candles clipped to evergreen branches.
My childhood family didn’t decorate for Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving, but our folks didn’t make my brother and me wait until Christmas morning to enjoy the soft glow of a string of bright lights wrapped around our Christmas tree. While I was glad we spent those extra days wandering around a semi-dark house lit only by colored bulbs in early dawn, the tales I read about Christmas magically appearing overnight appealed to my old-fashioned heart. I always wondered what it would be like to wake up one morning to a twinkling wonderland.
After all these years, I got my wish. I’m sure this has happened on many December Sundays in my life, but for some reason December 1, 2013, I noticed the magic.
Last week when we left church, it was modestly decorated for Thanksgiving. This Sunday, I entered a quiet sanctuary with my arms filled with after-service hospitality goodies and nearly dropped them. My eyes must have been the size of dinner plates as I recognized my Christmas fantasy had arrived long after I outgrew girlhood. Artful and spirited decorators had draped lintels and wrapped altar rails with greenery and red ribbons. They set white candles into evergreen centerpieces on each windowsill. In addition, they placed a lovely Advent wreath with brand new candles at the front of the altar.
I don’t know how long it took and who had to climb the ladder but these miracle workers set up a towering tree full of tiny white lights behind the organ. This ancient symbol of eternity spoke louder than all the glitz in the world could about a Savior born in a humble stable who brought light to a dark world. The simplicity of this beautiful evergreen balanced the poinsettia memory tree placed opposite of it.
Though the subtly lit evergreen was taller, the bright red commemorative tree created by stacking dozens of poinsettia plants wrapped in gold foil was bold and eye-catching. Knowing each living plant making up that tree was a reminder of loved ones passed on connected me to everyone in that sanctuary. We share our sorrows as well as joys.
I know this instance was not the same as those little children in my favorite stories creeping down the stairs to see a lit tree surrounded by gifts, but for some reason it was magical to me. I’m grateful for those individuals who gave their time and efforts to turn a pretty but simple sanctuary into a festive worship place for the next few weeks.
Although the initial moment of surprise has passed, my heart looks forward to enjoying more moments of Christmas enchantment. Let the carols ring.