Hearing the word “Chrismon” in worship yesterday unlocked a long-forgotten memory. That simple word took me back almost forty years to the sanctuary in Dallas where my family worshiped when I was a child, and Bob was my pastor. As they often do, this snapshot in time evoked memories of the people involved in that story, adding layers and textures that the years may soften but never extinguish.
It was late fall in 1981, and for whatever reason, our youth group accepted the charge to make new ornaments for our Chrismon tree. We were each given round Styrofoam ornaments that were covered in silky white thread. We then stuck pins through gold sequins to shape whatever symbol we had been given—mostly simple crosses or a shepherd’s crook or a crown.
I remember pushing those pins through the sequins for what seemed like days, though it was likely only one afternoon. I also remember that I made between 5 or 10 of them myself, about the same number as each of the others in our group made.
I only remember in detail the last one I made. For that ornament, I veered off script. Instead of one of the approved symbols, I fashioned the interlocking logo made by the letters L and H for Lake Highlands, my high school. I’m sure I did that out of boredom, but also to gig those in our group who didn’t go to the same school. Our football team was making its way to the state championship that year, and though I wasn’t on the team, just about everyone in our school felt proud the way you do when school spirit takes hold.
I thought little about it, but somehow that ornament made its way onto our congregation’s Chrismon Tree that year, as did the ornaments that my friends made in response to mine to represent the schools they attended. The congregation was surprised to see among the expected crowns and mangers and shepherd’s crooks and the prominent Chi Rho a few symbols they’d never seen in that context before. And they didn’t know what to do with them.
Here’s where my pastor entered the story. Bob was a marvelous preacher, had one of the keenest theological minds I’ve ever known, and he loved to laugh. He was also the one who helped my family through a number of struggles in those years, and in the days following my sister’s death.
In part, I became a pastor because of him. And now that I’ve served as a pastor for about three decades, I marvel at how he embodied the grace he proclaimed.
Bob never told us who had complained about our defilement of the Chrismon Tree, but someone (or more) had done just that. Someone always does.
The complainers wanted Bob to make us take the ornaments off the tree, but he refused to do that. In defiance of those complainers, he chose to write an article for our congregation’s newsletter that showed pictures of the ornaments we had made. And then he wrote about how Jesus had become incarnate in the real world of our everyday lives that included things like high schools and football championships and youth groups. And maybe it’s not really what happened, but thinking back on it now, it feels as if he was thanking us for helping him to remember that, and for giving him a chance to teach the congregation an important truth.
His death a couple of years ago makes it impossible to remind him of that moment. I suspect he would have enjoyed the memory as much as I do. I can see him leaning back in his office chair, that spark of mischief in his eyes, relishing the moment of that time when grace did its work, delighting in the memory of how when grace took flesh in Jesus, our ordinary, everyday lives could know what it means to shimmer with a beauty that rises beyond every complaint and creates within even the most unlikely soul the ability to know that you are cherished and loved.
And that’s the thing about the grace we share with one another. Even death cannot vanquish its work, for grace lives not only in word made flesh, but in memory made life.