words & images Jessica Sowards
I am a basket. I hold a bundle of rosemary, traded by a soft-spoken man to the woman with the farm and all the sons, tied with a ribbon and smelling of warmth. I hold a jar of spicy jam, jewel-bright and proud, made of peppers carefully inspected at the market and pickings from the pastor’s pear tree that arrived at this house in a soggy cardboard box. I bear apple-butter, long-simmered in a pot while small boys stopped to inspect throughout the day, curious what was being made of their orchard-found treasures. I hold a dozen eggs, smooth, multicolored shells lovingly tucked into a second-hand carton. I cradle a loaf of bread, kneaded by calloused hands and infused with prayers to an almighty God. I’ll be given away soon, to a loved one nearby. I’ll take the place of fancy gifts in shiny paper. And in my lowliness, I will move hearts. I was hard-earned.
I am a fake tree, bought from a clearance sale and decorated with more twinkle lights than could be counted. I am hung with six Baby’s-First-Christmas ornaments, with reindeer made of candy canes, and years of faded Polaroid® photos from Sunday school crafts. I am topped with an old star that represents an older star that once lead the way to the Savior. And at night, my yellow glow shines through the window onto a frozen and quiet farm. I stand for the deep comfort of tradition. I exceed the standard of the children who adorned me and am indifferent to any other standard. Because, while I may not hold the splendor of the trees in the shop windows, I embody all the wonder in the world.
I am a living room rug, bound of scrap carpet and nothing to sing about. I lie in front of a hearth. I am warmed by a fire of crackling wood. It was split in July, in sweltering heat, by the man with the farm and his brothers and friends. I am wearing out in spots, and I bear not the awe of the mantle, with its garland and stockings and cinnamon branches. I am often strewn with rubber boots and scrubbed where mud was tracked in from the yard. But on the coldest nights, piles of boys in footie pajamas, with their pillows and the quilts from their beds, come and lay on me. They watch Christmas classics and spill their hot cocoa and it doesn’t even ruin the moment. Because I am only an old rug, here to warm feet and soften the floor for the ones that matter.
I am an average kitchen, largely furnished by Craigslist and garage sales. I will never be called “top of the line.” In the spring, I will sit still during the day, as the man and the woman and the sons whir through for cold sandwiches on their way back out to the garden, the greenhouse, the springtime places of a farm. In the summer, my counters will be lined with jars of canned bounty and baskets of garden goods, awaiting their destiny. In the fall, I start to wake up and get ready for this season, for the feasts I will birth, the family I will cradle and comfort. The garden and the greenhouse sit quiet now, but I am warm and full. I saw turkeys raised in the yard feed dozens in November. I saw flour-dusted boys laugh with their mother during the making of Christmas cookies and pumpkin pies. I wake up first on the icy daybreaks and turn out hot coffee and honeyed tea to warm the hands bitten by cold morning chores. I smell of spiced cider and fresh bread. I fill a place that hungers for more than just food during the holidays. I am the host of memories.
I am a simple house. I am not old enough to be valued for antiquity and not new enough to be desirable to most. I was empty and forgotten, a widow, until the man and the woman with the dream found me. My skirts flowed out into acres, unkempt and uncared for. But they saw something in me that no one else could perceive and from the first day they came, their sleeves were rolled up, and their hearts were set on that unseen something.
They built, they cleaned, they nurtured. They dug, they planted. They built more. When the fall began to whisper in their ears of colder days, they worked against the threat of winter. And then when she came, they retreated. I hide them from the coldness and darkness of the world and in me has been born some secret sanctuary. And I think this month is a celebration of that. This month, with the handmade wreath on the front door, none of the visitors notice the faded red paint. This month, with the warm light spilling out of the windows, and the laughter bubbling out of the kitchen, and the smell of home pouring out into the biting cold, I have been transformed into something completely other. I am only an old house, but during this time, I am an expression of thanks. I am a home, a refuge from the whole wide world.
I am just a little farm. This is not my proudest hour. The colors have been muted by cold and births are brewing but will not come until spring. I am hung with words like “dormant,” like “off-season.” But still, the sweet smell of hay mingles with that of ice and animals and spice. And there is a reflection of another time in a dormant, winter farm. A remembrance of a manger, when a girl became a mother and a King became a baby. I will shine soon, but today I am only a backdrop. I am only the sound of a rooster’s crow, of bleating goats. I am only the smell of wood smoke. I am only a small bowl of greenhouse greens and a handful of coveted eggs. I am not the focus, just the setting. Like the manger was two thousand years ago.
I am December. I never meant to be demanding. I do not come with the bounty of fall, or the escape of summer or the promise of spring. I am, however, extraordinary. Because underneath the door-busters and the dollars-off, behind the juggling show of programs and parties, I am the teller of an incredible love story. I am a place where no bought things can lead. I am the celebration of a great gift, given freely, that could never be afforded by anyone but God. I bear the weight of an incomprehensible adoration, of a miraculous pursuit. And when a man or a woman take hold of it, they get to experience me in a new way. They will no longer care that their life is simple, or even that it is lacking. Because they will be equipped to live out a new December. An unselfish one, unhurried, unconcerned about material things. They will see the opportunities to give without receipt, to go the extra mile, to celebrate with kindness, and patience and an untouchable joy. They will see Jesus as their focus and all the rest as beauty to adorn Him.
I am Christmas. The story of a Savior. The opportunity to bless in the measure that you have been blessed by that baby, that manger story. I’m not hiding, but I’m largely overlooked. I’m largely masqueraded as some expensive thing, but I am free. I am beautiful. I am waiting to be embraced. I am waiting to make every gift reflect the greatest gift. I am waiting to strike hearts with wonder. I am waiting to be found, understood. I am Christmas. Will you have me?
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