Words from a burning heart

by Tim Stouffer

Down the street, at the corner, the slush is heavy, brown and thick from the freshly fallen snow. The ice underneath this rich brown layer that almost looks like topsoil is hard and slippery. Protected by nightly light snowfalls and plunging temperatures, the ice forms a glass-like surface that has a way of sloughing off car tires and booted feet. The simple act of getting where you want to go is not so easily accomplished. It carries with it the cool, slick touch of treachery.<BR><BR>One lapse into carelessness, one misplaced step or just too much speed can result in an accident. A collision. This is winter in the north woods, the elements doing battle and winning. The snow is light and airy and usually can be swept away each dawn. The shovels haven’t gotten too much of a workout yet. The salt is in a little higher demand.<BR><BR>Our Christmas tree is up and decorated. It seems the perfect size and shape, as it stands framed by the front window, trimmed and lit with loving tradition. After adjusting and adjusting and readjusting the lights and ornaments combine to dress the little tree to near perfection. This is, how I expect everyone feels about their own tree. Remembering each ornament from the past, tackling the tedious task of light bulb inspection with glee or desperation. Topping the tree with an angel, star or special ornament.<BR><BR>The thing I forget about each year - the one thing that you’d expect to stick with me... is the sap. Somehow I seem to get it all over me. Not so much my clothing, but my skin. It mats down in the hair on my arms and creases of my knuckles and refuses to relinquish its sticky hold on me. It seems to collect dirt instantaneously and the more I scrub at it, the tighter the little balls of my hair become. The pungent, fresh scent of pine eventually drives the sap out of my mind, though. That and the look on the kids’ faces as they hang ornament after ornament.<BR><BR>Cries of “remember this one,” and “I made that one!” bounce off the living room walls with glee. They dig through the Christmas box until they have hung every last bauble and snowflake. Before the final touchup it resembles a traffic jam, with thin ornament cover up over four and a half feet and a glut of color and glitz and light down around the bottom branches. Inevitably, the kids have collected some sap as well.<BR><BR>Things aren’t always what the seem on the surface - underneath a beautiful layer of white snow or even a dirty brown clump of snow - most likely, lies ice. Treacherous ice. <BR><BR>Cut a live tree, bring it inside in the warmth of your house and it is going to bleed sticky sap. <BR><BR>Up close, all the ornaments hanging off the same branches looks wonderful. It’s only when you take a step back that you can look at the whole tree with lopsided subjectivity.<BR><BR>How often do we plod along following the same furrow made by the same old plow, pulled by the same trusty horse of habit. How often do we place our steps on the surface of the street before us, heedless of the potential for disaster underneath. How much of our lives are based on the fragile unreality that we can see, touch, taste, hear and smell - everything we need to know to take the right first step.<BR><BR>In a sermon entitled, “Christ Precious to Believers,” delivered in 1859, the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon said the following: “The rotten branches of the forest may tremble at the hurricane, for they shall be swept away, but those that have sap within them tremble not. Our roots are intertwisted with the Rock of Ages, and the sap of Christ flows within us and we are branches of the living vine, and nothing shall sever us from him.”<BR><BR>Sap is virtually impossible to get out or off of anything. I’ve thrown kid’s clothes away before because they were so full of the sticky substance that they’d stick to the furniture when they sat down. This is what the Christ of Christmas is. Living, flowing, life-giving energy. <BR><BR>How could we forget about something and someone that sticks with us, literally through thick and thin. How can we and why do we go through life at the mercy of our own blind leadership. He knows where our next step falls, he knows the consequences of our actions, he can see all of the branches of the tree of life, not just the ones where we are frantically hanging our favorite ornaments.<BR><BR>He’s stuck on us. It’s a good thing...