A Gift That Will Last
December 24, 2017
If you take a look around the sanctuary or have someone describe it to you, you might notice something. Or rather, you might notice the absence of something. Something that you would find in most other churches this time of year.
We do not have poinsettias.
Now, this is not because we didn’t get our order in on time. This is on purpose! Back around Palm Sunday, a few of us got talking about the ecological impact of ordering palms. Even the sustainably harvested ones we get from co-op owned growers have to be shipped first from Mexico or Central America to a supplier in Minnesota, then get repackaged and shipped all the way here to Massachusetts. Whatever environmental brownie points we scored from going with eco palms seems to get cancelled out pretty quickly by all that shipping. Plus, the palms only last a few days, then they become compost or trash. They just don’t last.
So we started thinking about what we could do for Christmas flowers. For years, like so many churches, we ordered those beautiful, bright red poinsettias. We’d keep them alive long enough to have them adorning the church for Christmas Eve, then we’d try to track down everyone who bought them so they could take them home to shrivel and wilt, because — unless you have your own greenhouse — the life expectancy of a poinsettia in New England is disappointingly brief. Plus, we have a lot of cat owners here, and a poinsettia snack could make a cat’s life expectancy disappointingly briefer. And since poinsettias are not native to Western Massachusetts, we’d be looking at the environmental impact of shipping the plants from warmer climates — all so that we could have these traditional Christmas plants that just don’t last.
But to my mind, our poinsettia-free Christmas has a far deeper meaning beyond those environmental and practical concerns. See, for me, these poinsettias began to represent something larger, a certain truth about Christmas. The poinsettias became a symbol of something that bugs me about Christmas: They are just for show. They are props, and temporary ones at that. They do not last, and I want something that will last.
So I got to overthinking about it all, projecting my Christmas gripes on these innocent plants. I got thinking about gifts and toys and gadgets — how many of them will still be interesting or relevant or even functional by next Christmas — or even by New Years?!? How much carefully folded and taped ornate wrapping paper will be stuffing our trash barrels? How many once-full-and-fragrant Christmas Tress will be dragged through the house to the curb, leaving a trail of needles to be discovered throughout the year? How quickly does the expectant glee of Christmas turned to the winter blues?
Now, lest you think I’m some Puritanical humbug, let me tell you that I love gifts and toys and gadgets, and I go all out wrapping them up. And they are all sitting patiently under my cut tree, bedecked with colored lights and sentimentality. It all looks so wonderful and Christmasy — and I know it won’t last.
Yes, I love the gifts and trees and lights and the excitement, but I know it’s temporary. I want something that will last.
We all want something that will last.
And on Christmas, we are given gifts that will last:
God’s promises of peace, hope, joy, and love.
The peace that passes all understanding.
The hope that does not disappoint us.
The joy that is complete when God is in our hearts and when we see the presence of God in others.
The love that God has for us and has had for us since we were knit together in the womb.
These are the gifts we receive when we celebrate and remember when God became flesh and dwelt among us in the form of a vulnerable child.
Sounds like some great gifts. But it gets better, because we are given these gifts not only on Christmas, but every day of our lives. Every time you find yourself in conflict, you are given the opportunity to choose the gift of peace — a peace that creates wholeness and restoration instead of strife and separation. Every time you are faced with the seemingly impossible, you are given the gift of hope — hope that is beyond optimism, hope that drives out despair. Every time someone or something wants to cause you to feel less-than or defeated, you’ve got that joy — the joy of knowing that you are seen and loved by a God who walks with you through the most treacherous valleys and shouts with you from the highest mountaintops. Every time you use your hands, your voice, your feet, your heart to help and to heal, you are a vessel for God’s powerful and liberating gift of love.
These are the gifts that will last.
So that’s why we don’t have poinsettias.
Instead of the poinsettias, we turned to a Master Gardener in our midst, Pat James, to come up with something that would not only be more environmentally friendly, but would have a life beyond Christmas Eve. And so in place of the Advent Wreath made out of cut evergreen boughs, we have a living wreath of diverse succulents. Instead of poinsettias, Pat and our kids from Children’s Church planted daffodil bulbs — they haven’t bloomed quite yet, but they’re almost there!
And on the windowsills we have rosemary plants. As an evergreen, rosemary symbolizes remembrance. Christian legend says that it is named for Mary, Mother of Jesus. The story goes that while Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were fleeing to Egypt, Mary stopped to rest beneath a rosemary bush. She spread her cloak on the bush, and the white flowers of the plant miraculously turned the same shade of blue as her garment.
These bulbs and plants will all have a life beyond Christmas Eve. They will be planted in people’s yards or the church flower beds. The rosemary will be in someone’s herb garden or will season a meal.
Yet even these can become temporary. They need to be tended to and cared for. They need to be put in good soil, watered, and fed. They need to be nurtured so that they can grow, and bloom, and flourish. You have to put in some work if you want these things to last.
It’s like that with these other gifts. God has freely given us these gifts, and now we are responsible for them. If we want these gifts of peace, hope, joy, and love to grow, and bloom, and flourish then we need to nurture and care for them. We need to put them in good soil and tend to them. And nothing nurtures these gifts more than when you share them.
Share the gift of peace, and watch it grow.
Share the gift of hope, and watch it grow.
Share the gift of joy, and watch it grow.
Share the gift of love, and watch it grow.
These are the gifts we are given, perfectly wrapped and waiting for us under the tree.
These are the gifts that will last.