A Large Presence

“Did you take a look on the front porch?” Rick called up the stairs.

No, I thought, why should I? I had just gotten home late in the evening after a very long day; in fact, it had been an unrelenting series of long days. So after I had walked in the side door, greeted Rick and the dogs, the latter overly enthusiastic from neglect, it had not taken me long to disappear upstairs and climb into bed with a book.

The front porch? Knowing this was an invitation not to be ignored, I slowly scooted out from under the covers, stuck my feet into slippers and headed downstairs again. Rick watched as I flipped on the porch light, opened the door and looked for a possible UPS package that wasn’t there. Then I saw it: off to the left in the night shadows a heap laying on its side.

“It’s too big,” he said. The heap he was calling too big was actually a Christmas tree, although its true size at that point was still a mystery to me, bundled like it was in twine from the Christmas tree farm.

“It was a bargain,” said he who can’t resist bargains. “I saw it at the bottom of the hill, standing all by itself. The guy wanted to clear the field, so I offered a price and got a deal.”

We had had bargain trees before. The last one had two gaping bare spots on either side that no amount of ornaments or lights could hide. That one had been delivered by a fund raising group. No more of that. This year I had intended to go back to our traditional cut-your-own tree farm across the creek and up the road from our house. We had enjoyed taking our children there for many years. It involves a wagon ride past the lambs in a pen, around the iced-over pond, wood fires to warm hands, and a choice between a variety of trees on rolling hillsides. But this year it had either been raining, or one or the other of us was at work.

“It hard to judge a tree from a distance with wide open space around it,” Rick continued. “From the top of the hill looking down, it looked like the perfect tree until I got up close and saw how big it was.”

“Is it too tall?” I asked.

“No, I measured it. It has an inch to spare.” Then he said more tentatively. “It’s really, really fat and it weighs a ton.”

I laughed and guessed this would not be a good time to tell him what I had been going to suggest: that if we ever found the time to go tree hunting together, we should look for a smaller, skinnier tree with not as many needles to clean up. Instead, I was grateful, grinned and went up to the attic for the Christmas tree stand while he hacked at the bark on the base of the thick trunk. Once we had placed the stand onto the tree, slid the tree into the house and stood it in front of the big living room window, I snipped at the twine with the scissors. The first thing I noticed was a wonderful whoosh of fragrance…citrus smelling. The next thing I noticed were the many, many branches popping into place as the twine released them…no bare spots on in this tree. Then we stepped back and I noticed that the tree stretched halfway across the living room, the window had disappeared behind the branches and, yes, it was, indeed, enormously fat. My geometric guess is that the perfect Christmas tree should be pruned to have a top angle of about 30 degrees. Well this one is closer to 45. It’s so wide we’ve had to arrange our living room furniture around the tree. A person sitting in the rocking chair on the far right cannot see around the tree to the person sitting on the end of the love seat on the far left. With its wide spreading branches and its pungent citrus smell when the dogs rustle it, the tree is a large presence in our house, offering room for all our ornaments and the memories they bring, a a place for the last ten days to write and read by (like I am now).

I like sitting in the tree’s large presence, but it is a gift of Rick’s presence too, who dragged its weight up a hill and onto a wagon, into the truck, into the house on a day when I could do no more. While sitting by the tree, I have also been thinking of people, along with my husband, whose gift of their presence in the past year has supported and sustained me: the presence of the choir singing night prayer, the presence of dear listening friends, the presence of the one who cleans my home, the presence of the local farmer who grew my vegetables this summer, the presence of youth and their families painting walls in an inner city church, the presence of those who comment on my blog so that I know I didn’t write in vain, the presence of caring conversations over coffee or over bible study, the presence of grown children and their spouses who lovingly come to our home when they can. The large presence of these and so many whom I have not yet named, has been a rich gift in my life.

Whom would you name, those people whose large presence has truly been a gift to you this year?

On this day, Christmas day, I must name the presence of the One whose very name “Emmanuel” means: God with us. We are here tonight because God “tented” with us, as the Gospel of John says, by becoming a human being we know as Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. In Christ God’s large and holy presence remains with us, not in some heaven far away, but here on earth in our ordinary lives: a presence that lies so silently at times we might overlook it unless we listen carefully with our whole heart and mind; a presence so weighty it changes us; a presence so large we cannot grasp it entirely and sometimes need to rearrange the furniture of our priorities around it.

Yes, as I sit beside my large Christmas tree, I give thanks and sing this day for the wondrous gift of God’s large, ever-abiding presence in Jesus, once a child, always our companion. Thanks be to God and a blessed Christmas to you, my friends.


  1. This may be about Emmanuel, but it is also about the gift of long-married life together.
    Blessings to you and yours this Christmastide!

  2. Thanks, Jean. 35 years is a well-seasoned companionship.

  3. Never doubt the impact of your written word. It awakens our minds and hearts to touch others…never in vain…never