The neighbor’s tree slammed our home Thanksgiving night.
Patio destroyed; family room beams split, cracked, and fallen down inside the rooftops; sliding door glass strewn all over the carpet and patio; water pipes dislodged and cracked underground; mangled gutters, shingles, roof, and support posts; tree branches in every direction.
The wind-driven gravity of a giant Douglas fir had brought it down with a thunderous boom, the second of two connected trees: our neighbor’s home had taken the first tree assault four hours before as it pummeled through their roof to their kitchen floor. We spent Thanksgiving afternoon (1) knowing it was only a matter of time until the adjoining tree assaulted our home, and (2) wondering what part of our house it would smash. We pulled our trailer out to safety in the driveway, finished cleaning up Thanksgiving food and dishes, and gathered some blankets to bunk in the trailer, waiting.
Ten minutes after we were safe in the trailer, the tree slammed down. God had held it up while we prepared, and had boldly delivered us to safety.
As I get closer, I see it clearly: the King has built a manger.
What do you feel? Terror? Shock? The exhaustion of cumulative 2020 assaults? Are you frightened? Questioning why this had to happen on Thanksgiving or ever? Or are you grateful that God has delivered you, and touched by His timing? Yes to all: my feelings have been everywhere! Tonight my heart envisions Christmas from the rubble.
Is that my King out in the backyard? It looks like He’s pulling a couple beams out of the rubble. Is He taking them to the dump? Doesn’t look like it. Why not? They’re devastated; broken beyond repair. He’s picking up a saw and cutting them into small pieces. Doesn’t He know they’re full of splinters, nails, and glass? I keep watching, face stained with tears of exhaustion. It looks like a tornado hit. The Kleenex box is empty, and my jeans are pretty dirty; but I keep watching. He’s picking up a hammer now; nailing the small boards together. It looks like He’s making a little animal trough, but I’m not sure why He’d be doing that in the middle of my mess—no one needs an animal trough after a tree falls on their home. He just stood up the trough from all the nailing, and it looks like He’s picking up pine tree bows for it. I keep watching and wondering what’s going on as He gently arranges the pine bows inside the little trough.
Suddenly He picks the whole thing up and places it back in the middle of the rubble. There’s now a glow coming from this little trough, but I’m not sure why. Is there a piece of broken glass reflecting off the sun? I get up from the couch and walk over to the broken sliding door to peer out. As I get closer, I see it clearly: the King has built a manger. The broken glass and debris is now reflecting off the Son: Christmas from the rubble.
There are more people coming now. Who are they? I haven’t seen them in the neighborhood before. I put my slippers on and grab a coat to go outside and see who they are. Now there are tons of them, coming from every angle, into the yard. They’re so brilliant and shiny, and I notice their clothes aren’t made of denim like mine. They look more like beautiful wispy robes, certainly not good attire for a dirty pile of rubble. Then I begin to hear—an engulfing sound of majestic music rising from their voices. Suddenly I realize: these are the legion, the celestial chorus, the choir that heaven has appointed for this hour; these are angel singers, powering up the yard with strains of “O Holy Night!” This is incredible!
I watch as they move to the middle of the shattered pieces and broken roof. I see them encircle the manger built by the King—their King and mine. They’re standing in the mess now, blasting out, in full formation, the radiance of their matchless song. I’ve never seen rubble look so weak. Rubble so loves to rule by overwhelming, owning the whole scene with its selfish domination. The King is looking at me with all His loving being, reaching for my hand to walk among the singers. I say “yes,” and He whispers, “I can build you a manger from any devastation. I love you.” Christmas in the rubble.
The year 2020 was a year of devastation that didn’t stop when the calendar turned. People you know lost homes, lives, livelihoods, normalcy, and hope. Tonight, today, I pray that they—and all of us—envision the Son reflecting off our broken glass in a manger in the midst of our rubble. I pray we hear the voices of heaven’s choir and lift our hearts to “O Holy Night.” Jesus has not left us. No, He has come to us, entered our rubble to build and occupy His manger. He will always enter our rubble to build His manger. And as we walk onward from here in our tear-stained jeans, we hold the King’s hand to follow no matter where life takes us. For He is our King, the Son in the manger, in the rubble where the broken glass glistens off the Son the very most. He is the Paradox we care for as Babe and revere as Lord, in our paradox of storm and safety, chaos and joy. Tonight, today, is our Christmas from the rubble, where life triumphs over personal and global disaster, because the virgin has conceived; she has born the Son; and we have been blessed in the rubble by God with us (see Matt. 1:23).
Heather Vanden Hoven is a freelance writer living in Grass Valley, California.