That Christmas the two of us had each other, but that was about it. Jeff was in graduate school and working a couple of jobs, and I was teaching 1st grade. Our 2nd floor apartment in an old house was warm with heat of ancient radiators. We made our gifts that year, including a picture frame for Jeff from cardboard, birch bark, and yarn. We weren't going to get a tree, until we found a little Charlie Brown tree rejected many times over and marked down at the local tree lot. It filled the space beside our radiator.
It's position beside the radiator made us think that its unusual ability to suck up our daily watering was due to the heat. Blaming the radiator (controlled by the downstairs tenants), we just kept filling up the base of our little tree, thinking we were satisfying its thirst.
As the days inched closer to Christmas, a funny smell overpowered that of pine and cinnamon and clove. Finally, we searched for the source of the unseasonal stench, ending up at our little salavaged tree.
We discovered the base of our tree was slightly tipped, so every time we filled the base, water was slowly trickling out and over the other side. The carpet behind the tree was soaked with the leakage, and it had begun to rot and stink as it was saturated with the gradual flow. If you ignore a slow leak, it will start to stink.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
The verse before this actually says bitterness to each other grieves the Holy Spirit.
No one wants to reflect on bitterness during the holidays, but if injuries flow "out the back" where they're unseen and saturate the ground around our marriage relationships (or any relationships), eventually you have a rotten, stinky mess. A slow, steady flow of little things that are left undealt with will create a bitter stench.
We know that we aren't to "let the sun go down while are still angry," and when we do it gives the devil a place to stand in our hearts (Eph.4:26-27). If we ignore God's wisdom about being angry and not addressing it, the devil enjoys wedging himself into our lives on the foothold of bitterness. He doesn't need a big place, just a little leak here and there, adding up to a big stink.
Offenses. Misunderstandings. Harsh words. Coldness. Selfishness. Pride. Little things in a steady flow that eventually saturate a relationship and stink. Real life marches on during the holidays. Real relationships, real challenges, real leaks.
Last week we considered how faith and forgiveness and flexibility make for a truly festive Christmas. We can put up lots of lights, play jolly music, give extravagant gifts, and wrap ourselves in faux fur, but if there are walls between us that go undiscovered, ignored, and unforgiven, we just get a big rotten mess ... with a bow on it. Christmas (and regular "non Christmas" life) was not mean to be that way.
Starting Wednesday we'll take the rest of the week to think about how to have a Christmas season that is significant. If you don't get updates by email, subscribe here. Before we get there, though, I hope you'll check your "relationship base" and see if there's a leak to be addressed. Clean up anything nasty that's been absorbed and is rotting in your relationships. I hope you're smelling pine and cinnamon at your house, but if there's a stink, go find it and get it taken care of. Peace on earth starts with the relationships closest to us.