From the Goldfields
Goldfields God-Talk: Christmas Tree
The Revd Dr Elizabeth J Smith AM, Mission Priest, Parish of The Goldfields
Late in Advent, I recruit two teenage parishioners and drive out of town in search of a Christmas tree for St John’s Kalgoorlie. We find a likely dirt track running off the highway, and bump along it for a few hundred metres, keeping an eye out for something suitable.
I’m not fussed about the species. Some years it’s been a casuarina, sometimes a eucalyptus. Sometimes I’ve pruned one of the suckers that come up from the stump of a river red gum in my own back yard. This time, we find new leafy branches springing up skywards from the trunk of a fallen tree. We choose one that is just the right size and shape for its new seasonal destiny. We fell it and stuff it carefully into the car, trying to avoid picking up too much dust. It is, however, impossible to avoid bringing along several families of ants.
Back at my place, we hose it and each other down. It’s a hot Goldfields morning, and what teenager could resist aiming the hose at his brother as well as at the tree? Back at the church, we hunt out the black plastic tub full of sand to plant the tree in, and the white plastic tubs full of tinsel and baubles. We include a little sister to help with the decorations. With the tree safely strapped to one of the architectural columns of the building, everyone chips in to load it with bling.
Symmetry is impossible. Nature is beautiful, and random. The tree itself resists perfection. Children are much less worried about the perfect arrangement of baubles than adults are. It’s about who can reach highest to twine the tinsel, who can be trusted on the little ladder to place the star on a perilously bendy twig at the top, and how many golden orbs a six-year-old can hang off one low branch.
This wonky, lopsided, Australian tree, with its random decorations, is a wonderful symbol of the mystery of God being born as a human baby. It’s infinitely better than the compact, commercial, symmetrical, northern European, fake tree I have at home, with its tasteful, pricey, carefully curated adornments.
The Christmas gum tree points to a God who loves an untidy world, an asymmetrical world, a messy, scruffy world. The summer-time tree shows us a God who comes right down into the local mess, who is fully engaged with earthly untidiness, who takes all the risks associated with human imperfection. God, who is indeed high and heavenly, who truly is holy and glorious, who is normally way, way out of our reach, this God actually comes right here to live with us. All the power and glory get parked in heaven. Love, danger and crazy joy take up residence right here.
Perhaps a scruffy Christmas tree can help us relax a bit, stress less about getting things right, and encounter a God who embraces the unpredictable randomness of being human, and shines with love among our chaos.