A couple weeks ago, as we put up the Christmas decorations, my youngest son and I decorated our “Jesse” tree. A Jesse tree, if you aren’t familiar with this tradition, contains ornaments tracing Christ’s lineage. Though versions differ, generally there are about 25-30 ornaments picturing pivotal people and stories from the Old Testament. Hanging each piece is a special way to remember the reason for Christmas. The conversation I had with my 7-year old was so poignant, I wrote it down.
“Mom, this is Abraham. And there are tombstones on his ornament.”
I laughed. “No, honey, those are tablets. God wrote the…”
“Oh right! The Golden Rules! He wrote the Golden Rules on them!”
“Well, sort of,” I chuckled, ”He wrote the Ten Commandments and gave them to Abraham for the people to follow. Abraham was one of Jesus’ great, great, great grandfathers.”
My son beamed at me, hung Abraham’s piece, and grabbed the next one.
“This one has sandals. It says, ‘Isaac.’”
“Yes. Isaac was Abraham’s son.”
The next ornament featured a ram.
“Mom, why does this have a ram?”
“Well, God asked Abraham to sacrifice – to kill – Isaac as a test to see if Abraham fully trusted God.”
My son’s eyes grew wide with terror and I realized he hadn’t heard this story yet. It was important he see the hope here.
“And he was going to. He tied Isaac up and put him on a pile of wood, just the way the Jewish people sacrificed animals to God back in those days. But right when he raised his knife to kill Isaac, God told him not to do it.”
Pheewww came the sound from my son’s lips.
I smiled. “And guess what?”
“Just then, Abraham looked over to see a ram caught in the bushes near them.”
“And he killed the ram instead!?!!”
“Exactly! You are so smart! See – God provided Abraham with the ram. He always gives us exactly what we need to do whatever He asks of us. We just need to trust Him.”
If he retains it, my son might have learned a little something trimming our tree, but the lesson was a reminder for me too.
Someone said to me recently, “I hate the holidays because I never get…”
I won’t tell you what came next, but suffice it to say it was about people, and the undercurrent was, “I am perpetually unhappy because I don’t have what I want.”
Many of us have been there. The holidays trigger resentment because we see them as times that “ought to be” a certain way, and aren’t. Ever.
For a good portion of my life, resentment clutched at my heart because my family of origin had split apart and I was annually forced to make holiday accommodations – of location, time, even to celebrate with people I wasn’t close to. And although I was eventually able to make choices that changed some of the scenery, the bitterness remained.
Until I realized that I needed to lay my ‘holiday heart’ down on God’s altar.
Lord, take my disappointments, my expectations, my preconceived notions, my imaginary “perfect” celebration and help me to accept what is.
I trust You in the mess of this difficult situation.
And when I did – He showed me that joy doesn’t come from perfection in the moment. It comes ONLY from trusting Him fully.
He brings the miracles. And in His own time.
My life isn’t about me.
And my holidays aren’t about me and what I get.
They are about opening myself to the reality that God is working out all aspects of my life for my good because he desperately, desperately loves me. He LOVES the ugly, embittered, hard-hearted me.
And in this Love, I can rest.
In this, I have found that true, deep, and abiding joy is always mine, regardless of where I am, who I’m with, or what I have.
What is your Isaac this week?
Are you clinging to a way of celebrating that once was but can’t be now?
Is there an “ideal Christmas” in your head that doesn’t reflect reality?
Do you need to accept a difficult situation?
Only when we fully trust – when we look for God and lay down our hearts – in the murkiness, in the muck, in the trials we face – can we see the blessings He has for us.
He is there.
He will provide.
And he specializes in transforming bad situations into glory.
As you go into Christmas, surrender your preconceptions. Open yourself to miracles.
And when you do – fully and humbly – look for a ram in the thicket.