By NEMS Daily Journal
A sad sight over the last couple of weeks, as always in the days after Christmas, is the discarded Christmas trees lying on the curb, waiting to be transported to the landfill.
It’s not that the sight is unexpected – it’s the inevitable byproduct of the season’s wind-down. But there’s something about those trees, stripped bare of their holiday attire, that evokes a little melancholy. OK, they seem to say, that was a special time and an elevated moment, but it’s over now and it’s back to real life.
Sometimes we get that feeling after Christmas, regardless of the presence of any trees on the street. The post-holiday blues are a much-studied phenomenon. Some of it relates to unmet expectations of the holidays, while in other cases it may be sadness that the “holiday high” of family closeness or special times with friends won’t be sustained.
But there’s also the spiritual element. Christians come down to earth, so to speak, after singing with the heavenly hosts about the birth of the Saviour. If we are able to untangle ourselves from the inevitable hassles of the holidays and focus on God’s great gift to the world, Christmas can be a time of great spiritual joy.
But then what? When the Christmas tree is discarded, does our awareness of the incredible act of God’s intervention into human history go with it?
Christmas is about the incarnation – God becoming man. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” That astounding truth means that “coming down to earth” after Christmas need not mean a spiritual slide, precisely because the earth is now hallowed ground.
“Incarnation means that all ground is holy ground because God not only made it, but walked on it, ate and slept and worked and died on it,” wrote the contemporary Christian theologian Frederick Buechner. “If we are saved anywhere, we are saved here. And what is saved is not some diaphanous distillation of our bodies and our earth themselves. Jerusalem becomes the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven like a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:2)”
In Buechner’s view, “One of the blunders religious people are particularly fond of making is the attempt to be more spiritual than God.”
Because God created and entered human life, all of life becomes sacred – even the humdrum repetition of most days, even and especially the commonplace interactions and events of everyday life. Jesus, after all, was born in a stable and made a living as a carpenter. It wasn’t all spiritual mountaintop experiences in his life, either.
“Real life,” in incarnation theology, is not separate from a somehow elevated spiritual dimension. They are one and the same.
On the Western liturgical calendar, the 12-day Christmas season ended Thursday with the feast of the Epiphany, ushering in a season in which God’s revelation of himself to all people is emphasized. Most of us tend to think that such revelations come only with blazing light or some other-worldly experience. The incarnation of Christ suggests that God can be met and recognized daily in the ups and downs, the peaks and valleys, of this world.
In other words, we don’t need to discard our awareness of God’s presence along with the tree. In the return to “real life,” we find God there, not just in the angelic heights.