I loved coming home with the new tree on some weekend not long after Thanksgiving. Unwieldy pine boughs would scrape the doorframe as we pulled the cold mass into the house. Falling needles and cold air accompanied our new treasure through the front door. And then dad would shave an inch off of the sap-soaked base, unleashing one of those scents that, I hope, fills heaven all year round.
My brother and I would move the big chair from the dark corner. Or maybe it was my Great-grandpa Schiebelhut’s old wooden toolbox, with its tongue-and-groove details and little iron levers that popped open secret drawers. Then we’d sweep up the dustbunnies. The Christmas tree corner was now ready for its tenant.
We’d hoist the tree from the floor and slide it into the old red-and-green base. I’d look up at the white ceiling, noting the brown-gray streaks from too-tall tree-tops past (sorry, mom). My dad would commend my ability to dress the tree with lights. “Come on dad, let’s put the lights on!” “Oh, no Joe, you do it the best,” he’d say, settling back into the couch to read the paper. I’d beam and get to work alone, the masterful parenting maneuver not registering until years later.
Mom and the younger kids would hang ornaments from old art classes, anniversaries, and vacations. She would stoop over the box, unearth another ornament, and coo nostalgically as she stood up. “Remember where we got this one?” We’d order Pizza Hut pizza – yes, with cheese in the crust – and dad would make us virgin peppermint grasshoppers. It was the second best day of the year, after Christmas.
I still look forward to moving the furniture in our Jesuit community houses to make way for the Christmas tree, the Advent wreathes, the poinsettias. The ordinary patterns of our house won’t do – some things need to move around a bit to make way for what is bright, beautiful, fresh.
New life does that – a Christmas tree, a new child in the family, a career change. The nature of change is that old habits, old arrangements, old modes of life might not work any more. What once seemed so important is no longer so; at least not right now.
We can refuse to change.
We can lament the loss of the familiar.
We can curse the dark.
Or we can welcome the newness, hopeful and attentive to where new life is on offer. Attentive to the new experiences, the new arrangements, the new patterns.
Just as the northern hemisphere is plunged into long, cold nights, the season of Advent steps in and says: don’t despair. New life, new light is coming. Make space for it by moving the furniture a bit, and wait attentively. Keep watch by candlelight for a while. Something bright, beautiful and fresh is about to burst through the door.