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Like the real beauty that shines from my unreal tree, His grace and glory shines for and through me, even — especially — when I realize I’m not as straight or sturdy or as glowing as I thought.

For 28 years of marriage, I insisted on a real Christmas tree, because real trees equaled real joy.

We’d travel as a family the Friday after Thanksgiving, hunting and opening and shaking and fluffing dozens of Frasier firs till we crowned “the perfect one.” We’d string the chosen conifer to the top of the truck and begin the ritual of getting it to the house, and straightening it in the stand, and stringing it up with glowing lights.

In some years this was relatively pleasant; in some it was an attitude-apocalypse. The weather was often un-holiday hot, and the people (also known as “Mike and the children”) were sometimes not as enthusiastic and filled with joy as we (also known as “I”) thought they should be. They sometimes munched leftover turkey sandwiches instead of helping. Sometimes, they openly envied the “lucky” families who got to pull Christmas out of a box in the garage.

Because the tree was never as straight as we thought. The stand was not as sturdy as we expected, or the lights were not as plentiful or glowing as we remembered. The result was always beautiful, but the drama could stretch over hours and arguments and multiple Black Friday trips to Target.

So, in this, the 29th year, I caved.

Two weeks ago, the UPS guy dropped a beautiful, glorious, easy, self-lighting, and self-straightening artificial tree at my door.

And in this, the 29th year, I cried.

I felt like I was giving up on something precious, something true. But we assembled the tree (in five minutes!) just to make sure it all worked, and it’s been sitting gloriously in the corner of my living room ever since, twinkling at me, waiting patiently for ornaments, and unraveling the tales I tell myself about what is true.

It’s perfectly lovely, and all the feelings and beauty and wonder it brings are just as real as those that came after hours of struggle and sweat and fight.

Kelly, it whispers, you don’t have to keep trying so hard.

This is the true miracle of Christmas, a kind of peace that comes from the Word made flesh.

In the most shocking event in history, God rolled back the curtain of the stars to form all of Himself into the shape of a baby. He clothed all His goodness and power in a thing He had made, from the dust He had also made, scraped from the earth He had made as well.

He was the Word, the Bible says, not a thought or a feeling, not a fleeting hope or a mere chance that things might go well, but a Fact, a Truth, the full expression of the Heart of God wrapped in our own bones and skin.

Good will toward men, indeed.

As Christians, we often center our lives around “Jesus died, and Jesus rose again.” Certainly, His death and resurrection are at the heart of our faith and salvation.

But also central is the precious fact that Jesus lived, and that for 33 years he walked in the flesh like us. And unlike us, He endured to the end of the thousands of tragic possibilities that can grow out of every negative thought — every potential temptation — every looming fight and frustration — to remain without sin.

He pushed evil back with every cell and every fiber in every thread of every day, so that He could stay our perfect sacrifice — our every need fulfilled.

Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, to be it. He came not to crush it but to keep it, not to disregard it, but to fight against every possible fissure that might bend it or break it so He could meet the cross as a spotless Lamb.

And yet, His perfection did not make Him hard with pride, but soft with mercy. He dined with the undignified. He sat with the shunned. He sent the zealots and the rule-followers away with empty questions in their empty hearts.

And this is the full glory of God that the apostle John says we’ve now seen: not just His far-reaching, star-spinning majesty, but that this Word became flesh, and He dwelt among us, packed to the brim with the truth, but overflowing with God’s mercy and kindness and grace (John 1:14). He responded to our humanity with His own.

God became flesh to show us what He’s like.

God became flesh to feel us, know us, get us.

God became flesh to bleed real blood for us, die for us, live for us — both before and after the grave.

And God became flesh to perfect our hearts without a single promise kept from us.

He tried hard so we don’t have to.

The Law was powerless to save us (Romans 8:3-4). We could not keep it then. We cannot keep it now. Truth became a Person to do all our work.

Like the real beauty that shines from my unreal tree, His grace and glory shines for and through me, even — especially — when I realize I’m not as straight or sturdy or as glowing as I thought.

It shines without my struggle. It shines without my striving. To God, I am worth saving, worth understanding, worth living for, without performance and without process.  I am worth the Word made flesh.

All of His fullness I have received, and grace upon grace upon grace (John 1:16).

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