Pine trees make me think of Christmas: That’s one of the reasons I love the one in our front yard. But we’d noticed lately that our evergreen behemoth was groaning under the weight of too many branches, all of them thick with needles and pinecones. With El Niño coming, it was time to thin the tree before it did some damage.

The team of eight men from Timberland was brutally efficient. Several sang as they worked, an odd but intriguing counterpoint to the ripping and chopping that was going on. As they pruned and sawed, I realized the tree was not lush, but overgrown. Branches had twisted back in on themselves and there were huge pockets of dead needles we hadn’t been able to see from the ground. Still, I winced as the branches thudded to the ground: I felt as though they were shredding Christmas.

But then I realized their work was revealing the true shape of the tree. They pulled away dead branches that were weighing down healthy ones. They freed the tree from useless fluff so it could stand taller and stronger. And, for the first time in years, I could see light through the branches and watch a glorious sunset over the roofs across the street.

They weren’t shredding Christmas: They were showing me Advent. They were reminding me how overgrown our notion of Christmas can become, as we tie ourselves into knots trying to find the gifts and cookies and decorations that will make the holiday perfect. But the only perfect thing about Christmas is the Child who is born to us; we celebrate Him best by stripping away all the distractions and tensions and false notions. When we let the light in, when we let the love in, we are strengthened. We are renewed. We are blessed.

As we move forward in our Advent walk, let us strip away what distracts or distresses us. May we be lifted and strengthened by the joy of the season, and may we rejoice as the Light approaches.

“The King shall come when morning dawnsAnd light and beauty brings.Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray:Come quickly, King of Kings!”John Brownlie, 1907