That Wonderful Tree

charliebrowntreeby Glenn Fairman   12/23/16
Christmas, if not a time for utter extravagance, is at least a season for pulling out some of the stops. This year is the first that my daughter and her husband will spend in their new home, and what better way to highlight that vaulted ceiling than with a glorious fir tree? Yes, it is a monster– one that would strain the limits of many a household measuring tape, as it fills their home with that aroma of unspoken promise that can best be christened: “magical.” And as the magical points its exquisite finger towards the miraculous, should we then be surprised when creation, in all her exalted grandeur, leaves her trail of breadcrumbs to the very door of the transcendent? Can a tree stand as a living metaphor for hope – of that abounding life that is ever so faintly visible behind this tangible veil of scented wood and joyous expectations? Can nature serve to direct that elusive longing that nothing in this world can possibly satisfy?

The Christmas tree is no less than a central cultural icon fused into our treasury of Western lore. Countless stories, songs, and films have been fitted around the blazing hearth and a tree of varying magnificence. It has been: a “straight-man” for the most raucous slapstick comedies, a target of irresistible interest for Fido and Kitty,santadarla2 and a perennial tear-jerker when children point to it and remind us that “whenever a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” It is the source of exuberant delight for every child who ever lived under the aura of its grace. And as it is lit with the incandescent heirlooms that are handed down from generations, every fresh new tree carries in its boughs the traditions and memories that evoke not only what is endearing to us, but what we pray will come to pass as our best intentions resolve into Christmas Day.

So, how odd that when we consider Christmas in its purest form, another tree should grasp hold of our imaginations: the tree of Calvary. In calling upon the gospels, how terrible was the punishment inflicted upon the quivering flesh of a bruised and blood-drenched remnant of a man who was wholly without guile? And after rough soldiers pierced his side, quickening a torrent of water and blood, was not Jesus’ lifeless form hurriedly taken down so that the memory of Him might be buried and forgotten? Was it not written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree?”

On this tree of inexpressible woe, Christ took the worst that mankind had to offer and transmuted our poisons into the promise of joy everlasting – but only after first fulfilling a ministerial life of obedient perfection. Our human vocabulary lacks the words to describe this greatest action in human history, and how a poor man acquainted with the deepest of sorrows should perform it with humility beyond measure.

This singular death and resurrection – the culmination of a perfect atonement between God and man, comes with its own unique set of mysteries. The King of the Universe, lashed and nailed to the axis of a roughhewn tree, was that same King swaddled helplessly in a filthy wooden box used to feed beasts. The Lord of Creation, scourged and murdered by his enemies, was that same Lord who was whisked away to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the newborns. Both similitudes bring to the forefront, in no uncertain terms, the controlled power of divine meekness in the interest of God’s all-encompassing redemptive plan. Knowing this, how astonishing that an infant, arriving in the humblest of circumstances, should one day be the pivotal figure who prevailed against the very gates of Hell.

If one were to be honest, the very idea of the incarnation of God into man defies serious comprehension, once one fathoms the immense gulf that separates both parties. Yet, the love of “the Lamb slain before the foundations of the world” for us can only be fully understood in the figure of Jesus. Having assented to bridge that gulf, He shared in our burden of flesh to purchase back the relationship we had cast aside. Having first been “born to die” and then “risen to reign,” the triumphant God-Man proclaimed the good news across the full panorama of His creation – with words and deeds almost too beautiful to behold. As the first fruits of a new type of life, Jesus blazed the path so that we might then follow. Indeed, are not truth, love, forgiveness, justice, and mercy made coherent in God’s sublime affliction on that precious tree? And by that same Christmas babe’s suffering, are we not then the heirs to so great a kingdom, if we would but throw down our rebel arms, and be healed?

This Christmas will be more precious to me than any that have ever passed before. The lamb that God has given me these last 35 years looks as lovely to me as she first did sitting beneath our first “Charlie Brown” tree, but her eyes betray their weariness as she anxiously looks ahead to tomorrow’s suffering. The hard lessons we have learned about love, life, and God have been etched in the lines and scars of a drama that has moved so very fast – in a dream that is even now coming undone.  And this year, our children, who are amongst the brightest and strongest of this crooked age, have done the heavy lifting in loving regard, as we approach in unison our dreaded appointment with grief.

So on this Christmas day, I need no machine or bauble that this jaded world has to offer. And since no doctor can summon up the cure we so desperately need, I require a miracle so stunning that men might see it and believe. O God, who guides the sun and stars, and raises up the weary and afflicted who call out to you in their time of deepest need: Grant us one more dance around thy procession of days. Allow us one more celebration beneath the arms of that wonderful tree.

charlie-brown-tree

Merry Christmas, friends.


Glenn Fairman returns from the wilderness and writes from Highland, Ca.
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26 Responses to That Wonderful Tree

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    We used to get and decorate an ordinary Christmas tree (I once went along with my father when he went to buy it), but never a super-sized one. We would hardly have had the decorations for it anyway, though we had more available than we needed for the trees we had. Elizabeth’s church has a gigantic tree at the entrance to the Sanctuary, and some of her fellow choir members had one when we went there for the choir Christmas party. (We haven’t attended for years; I don’t know if they stopped having them or Elizabeth just decided to stop attending.)

  2. Gibblet says:

    Merry Christmas Glenn. I hope you and yours are granted the best Christmas ever.

  3. Anniel says:

    Thank you again, Glenn. Your Christmas thoughts, and your true tree are inspiring to us. Funny how some of our merriest memories come from our times of sorrow.

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I hope your pray is answered.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Ditto. And my prayers are not of the pleading kind, for I have no spiritual chips which which to bargain. But I ask of the Creator, “Why not? Why not heal this dear woman? Just do it because.”

  5. Lucia says:

    Glenn, you break my heart. May God comfort you all.

  6. Glenn Fairman says:

    And a Merry Christmas to all the people who write and comment on ST. God bless you, Brad—you will not escape the Hound of Heaven in perpetuity!

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      One could say the whole point of Christianity, Glenn, is to renew. This concept busts through, and puts into its rightful place, the whole “nature/transcendence” issue (the world/heaven, if you will). It’s not a question of geography or location, aobut having your Golden Ticket punched, per se. Renewal is a process that need know no bounds. Renewal touches on all things and places. We must leave to forces and wisdom higher than ourselves to draw the various real boundaries that surely exist.

      I got a kick out of reading about the common practice (apparently) of many Christians in the early centuries, including Emperor Constantine. It was apparently a common practice to wait until your deathbed to be baptized (and thus cleansed of sin). It was inconvenient to do so before. This is certainly one of the worst forms of legalism.

      Your sentiments, as always, are sincere and kind. But what a farce it would be for me to declare myself a Christian, to simply don a title for the sake of convenience. It would feel, at least for me, like Emperor Constantine simply using Christian beliefs and practices as convenient voodoo.

      I’m not one of those “no labels” putzes. So don’t get me wrong. But, good God, look at the state of things. I feel like St. Augustine, a true defender of the faith, compared to the schmuck, Prince Charles (whose job description is, or will soon be, defender of the faith), or the fake pope, Francis. We’re simply up to our ears in titles and names and there’s very little sincerity or substance beyond that.

      ”Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” — 2 Corinthians 4:16

  7. Rosalys says:

    So busy for the past few days, I didn’t get around to reading this until this morning. As usual, so beautifully written. Thank you Glenn and a Blessed Christmas (the season traditionally continues up thru January 6) to you and your family. Cherish the time.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Yes, Christmas season continues to Epiphany, which celebrates the arrival of the magi with their gifts for the Messiah. (The day is known as Three Kings Day in Spain, and is the day they give gifts.) Interestingly, December 25 through January 6 is actually 13 days. And if you add Christmas Eve, it makes 14.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’m quite relieved to know that I have several more days to get Christmas right.

  8. Glenn Fairman says:

    On 1/21/17, My wife, Darla Lavern Fairman, passed from our midst to be with our Lord @ 5:20 p.m. in the company of friends and family at our home. She fought heroically for nearly 6 years to defeat endometrial cancer, and only in the last several weeks was she confined to her bed. She leaves behind myself and our children Aaron and Melinda, who love her more than words can ever convey. I, who have been openly grieving in print for some time, will forever remember her beautiful spirit and how she transformed a crude peasant into a man. Her faith and the blood of Christ has made her real, as she gazes on the Face of God, where no shadow abides.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      For what it’s worth. you have my sympathy. I know how I”d feel if it were Elizabeth going through that. (In fact, it nearly was a couple of months ago.)

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      You have my sincere condolences.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Blessed are our friends who bring us such sorrow.
      Our lives thoughtfully weighed down with “But for the grace of God go I.”
      Our small grievances shame us as we are touched by those whose pain is not born of Snowflake sensibilities.
      Sorry is never enough but it is a beginning. And all of us are are truly sorry.
      Blessed Glenn and Blessed Darla. We are sorry. We also are in wonder of what is to come.

  9. Rosalys says:

    Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss, Glenn. Death is so common, so inevitable, we should be used to it; but no one ever really does, and it stinks.

    “Her faith and the blood of Christ has made her real, as she gazes on the Face of God, where no shadow abides.”

    And that is the hope. God bless you.

  10. Gibblet says:

    Glenn, I’m asking God to fill you with His peace and give you comfort. Thank you for introducing us to Darla Fairman. I grieve with you at her passing, while anticipating the promised reunion.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’m sure Glenn and Darla remain in everyone’s thoughts and prayers. We hope for a time when all of us can meet this dear woman who has apparently transformed a crude peasant into a man, as he has said. This used to be one of the primary roles of woman, to help transform man from just strong to both good and strong…wise and strong if they are lucky. And Glenn seems heaped full of wisdom. He was lucky.

  11. Anniel says:

    Glenn,

    I have been staring out the window for the past few days, too moved to even think beyond the falling snow. I wish I had known Darla and hope to meet her on the other side.

    Blessings to you. Annie

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