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The message of the ornaments

December 24, 2013

My wife and I been up in NY for the past few days visiting family for Christmas.  After 30 years in missions, during which we’d go months or even years without seeing our families, it is great to spend this season with them.

There was a price to pay for all that time overseas of course.  Not only did we miss decades of holidays, birthdays, weddings, and other special occasions we also struggled with frantic trips home at times of great loss.  My wife’s father and both my parents passed away when we were far from home.  We don’t regret the decision to go into missions but we do regret not “being there” at times of distress.  In any event, it makes the time we have now sweeter.  It also makes this a very strong “memory time.”

We are staying with my sister while here and I have to tell you the gaily decorated house is full of memories.  When my parents died she brought over a lot of stuff, including Christmas decorations, from their home and they are scattered all around.  I’m not the sentimental type but everywhere I turn there is another memory.

Nothing is a stronger memory trigger than her Christmas tree and, in particular, two special ornaments on it; their story goes back generations.  My mother’s grandmother came to America from Sweden in 1880 at the age of 12.  She came alone.  Her impoverished parents, seeking a better life for her, sent her away to take a job as a housemaid in a fairly well-to-do American home.  She arrived in a new country, speaking no English, with one small bag and a paper of instructions in English pinned to her coat giving directions to her new employer’s home.

In her bag were two hand-blown glass Christmas tree ornaments from her homeland.  They were taken from her mother’s Christmas tree, where they had hung for a number of years, and had been given to her as a reminder of home and family.  As she made her new life, and eventually her own home and family, the ornaments were precious to her.  Eventually she passed them on to her daughter, who in turn passed them to her daughter, my mother.  When mom passed away my sister inherited the ornaments and they now hang on her tree.  Lord willing, one day my niece will inherit them.

To say that these ornaments are precious to the family would be a colossal understatement.  As a child they were “look but don’t touch” items to me.  There was always a fear that one casual or careless touch would send the fragile glass to the floor to be shattered.  Only the daughter-in-possession was allowed to touch them.  Each year she carefully unwrapped and hung them on the tree and just as carefully wrapped them at the end of the season.  To this day I haven’t touched them, nor had my father or grandfather ever done so.  Frankly it would terrify me to hold them.

The ornaments are shaped like a chubby little man and woman and, objectively, they are not all that beautiful.  I have no idea what the value of the antique ornaments is on the market and really no way to find out or interest in doing so.  Their value comes in their connection to family and the story embedded in their history.  But their value is understood and welcomed by those who will never actually “own” them.  All the male members of the family, who by tradition have no claim on them, value them.  Husbands and wives of the sons and daughters descended from my great grandmother also value them.

So here are two little rather plain-looking ornaments that have been precious to generations and probably will continue to be so.  In many ways they remind me of the infant Jesus.  He came as an undistinguished looking baby.  I doubt his appearance was in any way dramatic.  Hundreds of people probably passed the baby by without a second glance.

Yet some did not.  In the Christmas story the wise men, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna represent those who were welcomed into the family.   They were those to whom Jesus became precious.  We Christians are their descendants, brought by grace into the family of God.  When we see Jesus, be He in the manger, on the cross, or anywhere in between, we are reminded that we have been taken into His family.

When I look at those antique, fragile, chubby little ornaments I am reminded not only of family history but also that, as precious as they are, Jesus is more precious yet.  All mankind has either already been adopted into His family or are welcome.  In the incarnation we are given the truth that Jesus has come to call us into the family and to give us life.

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From → Christianity

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