The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner-stone. (Psalm 118:22) What a great line! There, in a nutshell, is the Christmas story.
For many a Christmas in our household, it was the same story. Find a tree. Put it up. Decorate it. Admire it. And when the needles on the floor accumulated to the point they tripped us up, we took it down.
For a few years we went plastic. It was not a savvy move, for the cost to the environment to extract, manufacture, and transport a plastic tree must be enormous. I know, I know, there’s nothing that says Christmas like plastic. Still, something was missing.
Lately we have foregone indoor trees in favour of outdoor trees. Real Christmas trees. This year, as usual, I chose the optimum time to locate a tree. Deep winter had set in. Frostbite, pneumonia, and coronaviruses were rampant.
I like to scout for trees along road and utility corridors. In these industrial reserves, the life expectancy of a tree is always short. So, nature would forgive me. This year I located my spruce near a power line. It towered nearly seven feet. The backside was skimpy on branches, but that was alright, for I planned to display the frontside only.
When I got it home, it proved to be a right runt of a tree. Perfect. Farmers are familiar with the concept of runt. It’s born small, the rest of the litter push it around, and it stays small. The farmer decides it’s not worth keeping, and it gets the axe. Or the knife. Or the bullet.
My wife, Olga, born into a good-sized family, tells me that she was the runt. She held her own, though, and now she’s a comfortable size. We have decided to keep her.
Runts have made a contribution to civilization. There were, for example, Queen Elizabeth the First, and Napoleon Bonaparte, and Danny DeVito. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. There have been religious zealots, such as Mother Teresa, and Joan of Arc, and, for all we know, Jesus of Nazareth.
There have been outstanding comedians and innovative artists and sexy movie stars, such as Charlie Chaplin, and Pablo Picasso, and Mae West. They were all runts. Runts have been world-changing geniuses, such as Isaac Newton, and Ludwig van Beethoven, and Francois-Marie Arouet. In the eighteenth century, Arouet, better known as Voltaire, turned all of Europe on its head, daring to suggest that if a man or woman had a mind, why not use it?
Two thousand years ago, there was a runty little thing born in a barn. It wasn’t much to look at, but there it lay, in a manger, sucking its thumb, munching on hay, and, we have to assume, pooping away. But word got around, and there was a procession of star-gazers, including certain Poor Shepherds, Hark the Herald Angel, and the Three Kings of Orient Are.
What a great story! Who could have foreseen his career, and seen the move from barn-rat to prophet to King of the Good News? You don’t have to be religious to revel in this story. You just have to be open to experience.
This year, when I finally took a hard, unsentimental look at our Christmas tree, I noted that it was bald on three sides. The one branchy side, however, had done an expert comb-over, and projected an image of a fully-follicled tree, if you looked at it head-on. It was perfect.
As per tradition, I erected the tree off the corner of our house so that passers-by could enjoy it, and so that Olga and I could admire it through a row of tall windows. Dressed up in the latest LED lights, it is a joy to behold.
You know, the Christmas story, is the story of the promise to mankind that is locked up in every child, no matter how runty. It is the promise of a new beginning, of a new way, and of a better ending. I only hope I never get so jaded that I do not rejoice whenever I hear a carol, or see a tree, or pass a Nativity scene.
If I do, get out the axe.
Two is company, but a tree’s allowed.
[Originally published December 2005, and reprinted in The Jarheads of Goshen, a collection by E.J. Lavoie.]