Once our family annually emerges from the Thanksgiving food coma, we instinctively migrate to the living room, pull out the Christmas decorations, turn on the Christmas music, prepare hot chocolate, and set up our Christmas tree. Like many of you, we now have quite the array of laughable ornaments that have accumulated over the years. Perhaps the most memorable ornament is the angel that tops our tree. This scarlet clad and Covid-masked beauty holds her nostalgic form atop our tree thanks to the chintzy plastic cone that fills out her dress and holds her up. Though merely an ornament, our tree-topping angel prompts me to reflect on three truths worth repeating.
This treetop angel came into our home the Christmas of 2008, just a couple weeks after our mid-November relocation from Siberia to Alaska. At that time, I had been recently ratified to serve as the Alaska and Russia Field Director for our mission agency. Due to unexpectedly heavy international moving expenses, we were forced to exhaust our emergency reserves. This coupled with the cost-of-living difference between Siberia and Alaska was a true financial hardship for our young family of five. In fact, we only had enough for basic living necessities. Unwilling to tap into retirement savings or credit cards, I simply did not have the discretionary cash flow to afford even a Christmas tree, let alone Christmas gifts. It was an unexpectedly stressful season and I spoke much with God about my provisional anxieties. About that time, Kari and I were invited to a local church staff Christmas party in Anchorage. During that Christmas party they gave away some nice door prizes and I won a nice hand-tool set from a local hardware store. Though I could have used the tools, I went to the hardware store, and they allowed me to exchange that hand-tool set for a Christmas tree of equal value. In all truth, it was a Charlie-Brown-like Christmas tree, but it was beautiful to us! Wouldn’t you know it, it even came with lights and a tree-topping angel. When I look at that angel, I am reminded that God provides and sometimes he even provides for the non-essential and joyful things of life!
God is Faithful Of course, each of our young kids wanted me to lift them up to put the angel on the tree. The problem was that there were three kids and only one angel. We miraculously kept the peace by creating a yearly rotation system. To keep track, we have kept an annual written record of which child ascended to the angelic heights of our treetop on the chintzy plastic cone that holds the angel up. By the time each child turned 18, I was nearly ready for back surgery as the Christmas-tree-clean-and-jerk-child-lift became increasingly intense with each year of growth! When considering such written records and the connected memories, I think of the ebenezers of Israel. Ebenezers were typically long-term stone piles or monuments positioned to remind Israel of God’s provisional, disciplinary, mighty, and loving working in their midst. Today, when I look at the unbroken string of names and years in that plastic cone, it serves as a type of ebenezer for me. It reminds me of God’s unmistakable working in our midst. Over the years, our family has journeyed through deep valleys and over mountain tops. There were even times when our very existence as a family unit was in sincere jeopardy. It is certainly no pile of choice Jordan River stones, but the unbroken string of written names and years on that angel reminds me of God’s faithfulness, even in the darkest of seasons.
God is With Us Today, Kari and I are first-year empty nesters. Though we certainly enjoy making visits, we already look forward to our kids and grandson coming home and roosting with us for a spell. Despite last year’s tree raising being the official grand finale of our annual angel placement tradition, when I look at that ornament, I cannot help but think of our family’s togetherness. I mean, there has been some gut-splitting family laughter attached to that ridiculous angel! However, what has really bonded us beyond blood relationship and mutual experiences is the common faith that we share, discuss, live, foster, and enjoy in Christ. Christian community really matters, and it must be pursued with great intentionality. Even though Christian community is especially joyful when shared with loved ones, the essence of Christian community is, first and foremost, that Christ is with us. God came to us, virgin-born in man’s likeness, and lovingly draws us to be in relationship with him. Regardless of our life season or of how many or how few visitors grace our homes this holiday season, we who trust in Christ are never alone. God is with us. Let us pursue Christian community and practice his presence this Christmas season!
Jim Capaldo, District Executive Minister, Converge Heartland
A graduate of Baptist Bible College, Western Seminary, Novosibirsk State University and the University of South Dakota, Jim served 11 years establishing a church planting movement among the formerly unreached Tuvan tribe of Siberian Russia. Besides church planting, he has pastored at ChangePoint Church in Anchorage, Alaska, and at Central Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, facilitates StratOp retreats, serves on various ministry boards and regularly instructs for the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course.