Many of us spent last week initiating the Christmas season by putting up our Christmas trees and decking them with lights and ornaments. The traditions very on what ornaments appear on the tree. Some families have strict themes that would appear in a home magazine, while others are collected over the years and don’t create any theme other than the theme of “time”.
My mother was serious about our Christmas tree growing up. Each year she would purchase six or so ornaments and write my brother’s name and mine with the year on them. When I moved out she sent the ornaments with me and so began the tradition in our home. One ornament was much more significant than the others.
Each ornament carries a memory. I enjoy pulling them out and looking at them as I place them on the tree reminiscing on years and Christmas past. I am grateful my mother gave us this tradition.
You may have an ornament from a place you visited that is your favorite. You may have an ornament that was given to you by a family member that holds a special meaning. The most important ornament I have was not bought or given to me…I stole it.
When I was six years old I was in a Sunday school class at First Baptist Church of Avondale Estates in Atlanta, Georgia. We were making soldier ornaments from clothespins. Mine looked awful. The teacher had already made some samples to guide us and hers were impeccable. Any parent would be proud to have her ornaments on the tree. I stared at the box throughout the class coveting what was much more creative than my lack luster soldier. When it was time to clean up I reached into the box and stole the perfect clothespin solider and placed him in my pocket. When I got in the car to go home I presented the solider to my parents as my creation and he was proudly placed on the tree.
The soldier on the tree disturbed me. Not just that Christmas, but also the ones to follow. Each year he was placed on a limb and his rose color cheeks and squinting eyes made me sad.
Christmas and the stolen soldier brought about something very important in my life for the first time, conviction. From six to ten years of age I did not have the word conviction in my vocabulary, but I was convicted. I hated that I took the soldier. I hated that he was on the tree each year, but for some reason I did not grab him and through him out with the trash.
This soldier became a leading tool the Holy Spirit used to introduce me to Jesus. As I was getting older I heard the word sin. When I began to consider whether I was a sinner or not, the first thing that came to my mind was the stolen soldier. I took what was not mine and then represented it as mine. I realized that within me was a willingness to do the wrong thing, bad things. When my mother introduced me to Jesus I had no doubt I was in need of His grace, covering and gift. As I was the boy that was a thief and liar- how could I save myself from me? Just like the first man, I took something that was not mine to have. I needed Christ then and I need Him now.
“One does not have to be a great rationalist, an erudite theologian, a doctor, to know religious truths. One has only to look about one and observe that certain laws; that there is order, that all things are disposed in weight, number and measure,” writes George Boas of John Hopkins University in his translation of St. Bonaventure’s “Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum”
A child can know the great truths. These are evident in the everyday. Once discovered, seeking and learning becomes a great adventure.
Christmas and the stolen ornament were used to show me simple truths about God and me.
I still have the clothespin solider. I put him on our tree each year and I am instantly drawn back to 1976. Then I’m reminded - I am still a sinner in need of a savior. And as the soldier with a convicting smile looks at me on Christmas Eve, I celebrate Christ and His lordship, grace and covering.
The most important ornament in our home was stolen, but we put him on a tree that speaks to the light of Jesus Christ.
My sin went to a tree with the crucifixion of Christ. The soldier stands guard to remind me of that each Christmas.