December 19, 2016

Christmas Trees and Prayer in Advent

In these last days of Advent, we decorate our Christmas Trees and light our wreathes. If we pray, the candles can remind us that the One who is above has come and is still coming down to dwell with us. He has descended from the heavens to enter into the plight of humanity -- in this present fullness of time. The wood of the tree might remind us of the wood of the Cross.  The fresh pine branches, of the new life that comes from Him.  With a simple movement of the heart, a Christmas Tree can become a sign that reminds us from where He came, and to where He leads.
One of my favorite childhood memories is going to the mountains in the days before Christmas to find a tree.  The mountain air, the smell of the forest, and the search for just the right one made for an exciting adventure. The adventure also had unexpected moments of solitude and silence. Sometimes, the quiet beauty of the wilderness would even catch you in wonder.
When we finally brought our Christmas Tree into the house to decorate, the solitude of the forest and the mountains also filled our house. God's presence seemed as heavy as the smell of fresh-cut pine. Especially in the silence of the night in  the days before Christmas, the tree and all it signified helped me to pray.
The mountains and forests of this life signify spiritual realities. Earth and sky are more than visible, physical things. What we see with our eyes points to those heights and depths that God sees in Himself.  He has filled our hearts with the image and likeness of these invisible mysteries. Out of our depths, He draws us up to seek the glory of His face. The more we search for this loving mystery that hovers over us, the more deeply He stirs our desires. We ache for Him, and this ache is no more than the whispered response to His desire for us. God, hidden but present in His power and glory, has chosen to abide in these mysterious regions of our being -- drawing, moving, captivating in ways that we cannot understand.  
If we are attentive, a Christmas Tree can open the heart to this mystery. Just as this tree fills a room, when He chose to be born of the womb of Mary, the Word made  flesh became the center of our history, in the apex of each one's life. Its star reminds us that wisdom from on High has chosen to make our hearts His home. The lights of the tree remind us that He is no more afraid of our darkness than he was of the manger in which He first took rest. The decorations remind us of that unfathomably beauty: the Word of the Father and son of Mary joining together the mysteries of God and man.
As Christmas draws near, His first cries are ready to echo within us even should they go unrecognized. Angels are ready to sing from heaven even if no one below will hear their voices. The poorest shepherds are ready to adore even if no one of high station will share their joy. We, for our part, have nothing to fear. He never loses His hope in us, and is ever ready to allow our prayers to bind Him like swaddling clothes.