Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Stealing the Church's Christmas Tree

The service was ending. I walked to the back door to shake hands with people as they were leaving the church.

One of my friends, a young father and husband came up to me and sarcastically said, "I know we had the Children's Christmas program a week before Christmas. But were we so excited to get Christmas over that we're chopping down our pine trees?!"

I asked what he meant. He walked me over to a window and pointed to where a large pine tree had been. The top 6 or 7 feet of the tree had been lopped off. Someone, obviously looking for a nice Christmas tree, had cut down what had been a beautiful (and somewhat expensive) pine tree.

I know it was pretty expensive because our church building is less than 18 months old. And I well remember what we had to pay to put in all of those trees; a landscaping cost we had to pay in order to meet that zoning ordinance that would allow us to move into the new facility.

(In defense of the thief/vandal, he left us the bottom 2-3 feet, looking like a shrub.)

[By the way, have you read my previous blog? The blog entitled "14,000 Days" asked the question about how long does it take to grow a Christmas tree to maturity. This was asked prior to the theft, but maybe a little providential.]

So I'm left to wrestle with several questions:

- What kind of person steals a tree from a church...AT CHRISTMAS??!!

- Was it for sale or for personal use? If it was stolen by the person who actually put it up, what kind of Christmas must it be to give presents around a stolen tree?

- Am I feeling more vengeful or redemptive? The vengeful side of me says, "Find the perpetrator, track 'em down and throw the book at them!"

- But them I'm struck by the meaning of Christmas; the coming of the baby, the need for sinful humanity to be saved, redeemed, healed; the call to you and me to be the Church, and become the hands, feet, and body of Christ in situations just like this. And I wonder, "How can we be redemptive in such a situation?"

I'm convinced some of the best and most creative theology is probably done at times like this. But I've got to tell you, I'm not sure what the Christlike response is.

I guess I'll begin to pray that one day, that person will find him/herself in our building. Initially, uncomfortable about the deed. But ultimately, able to know grace extended by us, and friendship and forgiveness, and finally, becoming a PART of the very church they stole a tree from (at Christmas!!).

What about you? Do you have someone in your life who has done the equivalent of stealing your church tree at Christmas?

Will you add to the cycle of anger and violence? Or will you step up and do the difficult thing? Will you return evil for evil? Or will you offer a creative prayer and grace-filled response that diffuses the situation and allows healing to flow?

What will your response be?

Grace & peace.

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