A Little White Church Advent
Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during her time serving as minister in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.
On one blustery afternoon as the sun began setting in the sky casting a dusky pink across the fields where the corn stalks had been cut down, I came home to grab a quick bite to eat before heading back to the little white church for our evening Advent Bible study.
Pastor Donna discovers the beauty of a tree with no decorations and, in the process, realizes what it means to make room for Christ during Christmas.
I decided to have a supper of crackers and peanut butter so that I could use my limited time at home to set up the Christmas tree that had been waiting for far too long outside, propped patiently against the old stone well of the antique Vermont house my husband and I were now making our home in as newlyweds.
On went my Mucks and out into the snow I trekked to bring in the tree. Once in, off came the Mucks and on went my sneakers as I gingerly made my way down the steep ladder that served as the “stairs” leading into the old root cellar. Down in the cellar, in the dark corners only illuminated by my flashlight, I searched for the tree stand, praying I would not find a critter—fuzzy or slithering—instead.
Once I had everything I needed, I went to work, carefully balancing the tree with one hand as I tightened the screws that would hold the trunk of the tree securely in its place in the tree stand. This would have been a lot easier if I had waited for my husband, but patience admittedly is not one of my virtues. And time was ticking by. I had a lot of other things to get done. In the darkening living room I worked quickly to put the white lights on the tree. Quickly is an understatement as really I threw the lights on with many tangles and knots still tangled and knotted. Then I plugged them in hoping the lights worked as I had forgotten to test them before stringing them on the tree. Never a good idea, but luckily, all the lights shone.
I stepped back and I looked at the tree. It was absolutely beautiful. The lights cast a warm glow against the rustic barn wood of the living room walls and the simplicity of evergreen and white lights, without any ornaments, was dazzling.
Next to the tree was an old wood storage box a woman from the congregation gave me that summer, along with a dry sink she had in her family that she thought would be perfect for our little Vermont home. She was right. It was perfect. The dry sink was now home in our kitchen while the wood storage box now served as a coffee table in our living room. On top of it I placed the wooden stable my father made for me years ago when I was still living in Manhattan.
The stable was a smaller replica of the one he made that I remembered from my childhood. Both the original and my replica were made from the wood of orange crates, which were then stained a deep rich brown. The stable was still empty, as the nativity figures were not placed in it yet. Next to the stable was an angel standing with arms stretched out. I couldn’t decide if the angel’s arms were stretched out to receive the Christ Child or to proclaim the great news of the Christ Child. Perhaps it was both, I mused.
The lights of the tree shone through the clapboards of the stable, casting much needed light into its darkened corners that awaited the gift of hope—the babe, God’s son. All of a sudden, as I stared into that empty manger aglow with light, the busyness of my day was calmed and my racing thoughts of what I had to do next faded away.
There I stood with the smell of evergreen, the white lights shining and a stable waiting to be filled with the joy of little baby. No tinsel. No ornaments. Not even a star on top of the tree. I stood in the midst of the simplicity of the season experiencing something I very rarely experience this busy time of year. I was experiencing peace.
It was then I realized the peace of Christmas is something we must not wait to come to us. It is something we have to actively seek out and create. It is something we have to choose to bring into our lives by slowing down, saying “no” to too many commitments, and even allowing ourselves the permission, if we want, to simply leave white lights on a tree without the decorations.
For when we embrace the beauty found in the simplicity of undecorated tree, when we pare down all the busyness that we think heralds in the holidays, we discover what “doing” Christmas is really all about: It’s about keeping things simple in our complicated lives so that finally there is room for Christ in our hearts.
Just then my thoughts were interrupted as I heard the dog barking at the back door, greeting my husband home from work. My husband peeked his head in from the kitchen and smiled.
“The tree looks wonderful,” he said, not even noticing there were no decorations on it.
“It does look wonderful. I don’t think we need to do anything else to it, do you?” I said.
“Nope,” he said, not even giving the tree a second look.
I looked at my watch. It was time for me to go. On went my snow boots and off I went to our Advent Bible study at the little white church. I couldn’t wait to get there because I just couldn’t wait to share with those gathered there that night the powerful gift I had received—the gift of peace that came wrapped in simplicity.
In our little Vermont home, Christmas was indeed happening. Room was being made in our lives for Christ.