Advent / peer learning groups

What’s on your tree?

By Laura Stephens-Reed

In normal years I hold the liturgical line, waiting until after Thanksgiving to put up the Christmas tree.

In 2020, though, all bets are off. The tree was up by mid-November. I know I wasn’t alone in skipping ahead. I was so glad that I did, because unboxing and hanging the ornaments took on a different significance this year. It wasn’t so much a task to accomplish as a meandering through the individual and collective stories of our family.

There are the symbols of our dueling universities, Alabama and Tennessee. There are baubles with paintings or photos of churches we’ve served. There is the reminder that my spouse and I came within a week of meeting each other as 10-year-olds at Space Camp. There are souvenirs from our pre-kid travels to places like Pike Place Market, Fenway Park, and Times Square. And, of course, there are plenty of signs that we now have a seven-year-old: handprint ornaments, school photo holders, lots of glitter, and vestiges of his Daniel Tiger, Wonder Woman, penguin, and dinosaur phases.

In this year when we are physically cut off from friends, extended family, and in many cases, our fellow church members, when people we love have been lost to a virus we’ve only begun to understand, it was helpful to remember that life is more than this moment. I’ve had 42 years before this one, many of them really good, and I hope to have many (pandemic-free) to come. Even beyond the span of my walk upon this earth, there is more. The cloud of saints surrounds me now, and one day I’ll become a member myself, participating in the peace that passes understanding.

If you took a good look at your tree, what would you notice? What memories would warm your heart? What symbols of your faith would ground you? What joy would the lights and colors fill you with? What sustenance for the days ahead would you find?

Let your evergreen tree (real or fake!) root you in the everlasting love of God and in the promise of God’s persistence presence, even in times like these.

Laura Stephens-Reed is Peer Learning Group Regional Director for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. She also serves as a clergy coach and congregational consultant.

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