I loved coming home with the new tree on some weekend not long after Thanksgiving. Unwieldy pine boughs would scrape the doorframe as we pulled the silvery Fraser fir into the house. Needles fell as cold air accompanied our new treasure through the front door. My dad would shave an inch off the sap-soaked base, unleashing one of those scents that, I hope, fills heaven all year round.
My brother and I would move my great-grandpa Schiebelhut’s old wooden toolbox, with its tongue-and-groove details and little iron levers that popped open secret drawers. Then mom would sweep up the dust bunnies. The Christmas tree corner was now ready for its tenant.
We’d hoist the tree from the floor and slide it into the old red-and-green base. I’d look up at the white ceiling, noting the brown-gray streaks from too-tall treetops from Christmases past (sorry, mom). “Come on, dad, let’s put the lights on!” I’d say with excitement. “Oh, no Joe, you do it the best,” he’d say, settling back into the couch with coffee to read the newspaper. I’d beam and get to work alone, with my dad’s masterful parenting maneuver not registering until years later.
Afterward, we would all hang ornaments from old art classes, anniversaries and vacations. My mom would stoop down into the ornament box, unearth another memory, and coo nostalgically as she stood up. “Remember where we got this one?” We’d order Pizza Hut pizza – yes, with cheese in the crust — and dad would make us virgin peppermint grasshoppers. It was one of the most exciting days of the year as a kid, after Christmas and Easter. So much excitement, anticipation and joy.
I still look forward to moving the furniture in our Jesuit community to make way for the Advent wreathes, poinsettias and our Christmas trees. The ordinary patterns of our house won’t do — some things need to move around a bit to make way for what is bright, beautiful, fresh.
New life does that — it makes space for a Christmas tree or a new child in the family. But we also have to “rearrange the furniture” of life when we begin college, or move in with new roommates or make a career change. The nature of change is that old habits, old arrangements, old modes of life might not work anymore. What once seemed so important is no longer so; at least not right now.
We can refuse to change. We can lament the loss of the familiar. We can curse the dark.
Or we can welcome the newness, hopeful and attentive to where new life is on offer. Attentive to new experiences, new arrangements and new questions.
Just as the northern hemisphere is plunged into long, cold nights, the season of Advent steps in and says, “Don’t despair. New life, new light is coming in the birth of Jesus Christ.”
So, make space for Jesus by moving the furniture of our hearts. Like little kids, wait attentively. Keep watch by candlelight: for something bright, beautiful and fresh is about to burst through the door.