Out in the Christmas Woods

My Grandfather loved wood.  He was a master carpenter and cabinetmaker and had a shop full of wood.  There was oak, maple, or birch for most projects; cherry, black walnut or even mahogany for special ones, and pine and spruce for everyday projects.  It didn’t matter what the project, he would saw and plane, shape and sand with his strong hands and delicate touch.

I’ve been thinking a lot about wood this Christmas…  From pine roping and fir trees, to the large maple basket filled with logs next to the fireplace to the perfectly stacked wood in the fireplace, just waiting to be lit, its warmth and flickering light filling the room and warming our eyes, hearts and bodies this Christmas. 

 I’ve been thinking about wood a lot this Christmas… From the warm wood tones of this sanctuary, the oaken pews, the spruce ceiling, the laminated arches, the paneled walls, and the altar furniture crafted for the things most dear to us: the wash basin stand of our baptismal font, the place we are washed and claimed by God; the lectern and pulpit, the Word places where we hear the promise and love of God; and the communion table, the place where we taste forgiveness and are sustained by God.

I’ve been thinking about wood a lot this Christmas… From Balsams and Frasier Firs to Scotch Pines, Norway Spruces, Mistletoe to Holly, the wood of Christmas fashioned into wreaths and as decorated trees, evergreen and fragrant, filling our homes and churches with a symbol of peace and joy.  Early Christians placed evergreens in their windows to show that Christ had entered their home, the unchanging nature of evergreens reminding us of everlasting life.

I’ve been thinking about wood a lot this Christmas… From the simple bench that our crèche sits upon, to the handcrafted figures of the Nativity story carved and lovingly painted in the Philippines, unwrapped and placed with love by the children of Faith, a visual reminder for us all about the breaking in of God into the lives of people who longed for a savior, for light to brighten the darkest of days.

I’ve been thinking about wood a lot this Christmas… From the large wooden manger filled with hay and a baby doll during our Sunday School pageant a week ago, to that same manger holding the Holy Scriptures opened to the Gospel for this night.  Both God’s Word, both held in a manger crafted by members of this Faith community, both proclaiming the Word made flesh, Emanuel, God with us, born this night for you and for all people.

Martin Luther said that the Bible is the cradle where Christ is laid.  As you come up for communion this night, I encourage you to look at this simple wooden manger that holds the Word that was birthed for you and for all people.  For it is through God’s Word that came as a baby, preached and taught as a man, and whose Good News is foretold by prophets and shared by the apostles that is written in theses pages.  It is God’s story lived and given for you, in the form of this Book of Faith that brings us Jesus the Christ and that lets us hear and see Him and get to know Him.

The Bible with its pages made from wood pulp, is the manger in which the baby Jesus lies for you and for all people.

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I’ve been thinking about wood a lot this Christmas… How our lives as people who believe and people who doubt are often like trees:

  • There are days we feel like a mighty Charter Oak, able to withstand the winds of a changing and complex world that swirl around us, 
  • Or a strong Cedar able to weather the pests and things that try to rot our very cores,
  • Or a solid Rock Maple able to meet the expectations of those who lean on us with strength, beauty and grace.

 But there are days when we look like we have it all together like a striking Birch: 

  • But our skin may not be as thick as we think,
  • Or our branches that break and splinter as strong as we like,
  • Or our roots deep enough to hold fast to what we hold dear in our lives. 

And then there are days we are as prickly as a Blue Spruce, or are a mess and weep like Willows:

  • Or drop our needles like White Pines,
  • Or regardless of how we look or what our background, recognize that we have a hollow core,
  • Or find out that we are diseased, or dying.

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I’ve been thinking about wood a lot this Christmas… That Jesus of Nazareth was the son of God and stepson of a carpenter: 

  • That Jesus knew about wood, that it was the family business,
  • That he could saw and plane, shape and sand with his strong hands and delicate touch,
  • That he sought out the prickly Spruces, weeping Willows, and people who had been tossed into the brush piles of the world
    • to spent time with,
    • to eat with,
    • to bring wholeness,
    • to shape and sand with his strong hands and delicate touch.

But there was more wood in Jesus’ life than the manger of his birth, the sawdust of his father’s shop, or the wooden people he encountered.  For as Christians we know of the wood of the cross: 

  • We cannot separate the cradle from the cross,
  • We cannot separate the joy of Christmas from the reality of Good Friday,
  • We cannot separate the day of Jesus birth from the rest of the year.

God loves to reveal God’s-self in the places we least expect.  A small insignificant town, a stable among beasts of burden, a wooden manger, a human face… dwelling among us.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “For those who are great and powerful in this world, there are two places where their courage fails them, which terrify them to the very depths of their souls, and which they dearly avoid.  These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ.”

I think Bonhoeffer had it right, the manger and martyrdom always go hand in hand:

  • The wood of God’s cradle,
  • The wood of God’s Word
  • The wood of God’s cross

My Christmas wish for each of you is that you too think about wood a lot this Christmas… the wood of new life, evergreen, ever-loving, everlasting!

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