A Dirty Sock under the Christmas Tree
( The first of my yearly repeat of Advent Stories.)
My mother always made Christmas extraordinary, even when money was in short supply. She polished and decorated every square inch of our apartment. The presents may not have cost a lot, but they were wrapped beautifully. There was a constant flow of guests, often widows without family or young families with out parents or grandparents around. There were special treats to eat, but also even the plain old deviled ham sandwiches were trimmed and cut into triangles with parsley sprigs around them on a silver tray.
After my father died, she passed the Christmas torch to me and I tried to do the same. But I added teaching classes and organizing Christmas pageants at Church. I spent weeks with my five children happily making present for all their teachers and my students. I never thought about the fact that mom had just two children and a small apartment, but I had five children and a very large house, which was a home away from home for a constant flow of college age house guests involved in a traveling Christian ministry. Mom had set the bar very high, but without realizing it, I had raised it.
So, pretty much every year, close to Christmas, I would reach overload, proclaim loudly that I hated Christmas and slam my way into my bedroom to collapse for a day or night. One year, after I had once again crankily retreated to curl up in a fetal position and figuratively suck my thumb, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning realizing that I was scheduled in a few hours to give a talk on “The Spirit of Christmas” to the women’s group of another denomination. I seriously considered calling and saying that I had broken my leg, but I figured that was risky. God might have ways to keep me from being a liar. As I prayed for help, it seemed like God was telling me that although I was doing many good things, I was missing the point of Christmas. Christmas wasn’t about how much we could do or how perfect we could make it. Christmas was about being open to receive our much needed Savior, the tangible expression of God’s perfect love for his imperfect children.
So, I ended up simply telling the women the whole story of my patter of Christmas breakdowns, my last minute panic about giving the talk, and what I thought God was saying to me in all of this. It turned out they could all relate very well to my experience. Then for reasons unknown to me, I ended by saying, “No matter what it takes, even leaving a dirty sock under the tree, I’m going to keep my focus on the true meaning of Christmas.” Now, really? Dirty socks under the tree?
Of course mother arrived, guests came, children were free from school, and Christmas Eve arrived with the stress building and me tensely rushing around. Just as I was hurriedly putting laundry away in a bed room close to the living room, I heard my mother ask, “Eileen, why in the world is there a dirty sock under the Christmas tree?” I got goose bumps. I could feel Jesus standing there with his hand on my shoulder, gently shaking his head. I dropped the laundry on the bed and hurried to stop my mother from removing the sock. She looked totally confused as I said, “Mom, leave it there. Let’s get a cup of coffee and right now take time to read the Christmas scriptures to remind us of what we are celebrating.”
Each year, after that, I pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and watch expectantly for Him to come some way, perhaps even in a dirty sock under the Christmas tree.