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Lara Patangan ponders that the best part of Christmas is the reminder that with the birth of Christ came redemption for us all.

I remember driving to the Christmas-tree lot with my mom in high school. It was close to Christmas so by the time we arrived the only trees left looked like they belonged on the Island of Misfit Toys—assuming the island’s castoffs were conifers instead of spotted stuffed elephants, a wannabe-dentist elf named Hermie, and a choo-choo train with square wheels. These trees were lopsided and skinny with dehydrated needles that fell off if you brushed against them. Even in the dark with the blurring glare coming from street traffic and the strings of light snaking their way from the mouths of fluorescent orange extension cords, you could tell the trees were ugly.

So, of course, my mom bought one.

And, I know the Charlie Brown Christmas tree with its sparse leaves and singular ornament evokes a certain sort of nostalgia that reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas. But I was a teenager. I hadn’t lived long enough to acknowledge there is beauty in the broken. I still saw the world as two-dimensional. Black and white. Good or evil. Generous or selfish. Happy or sad. All of the color that exists between those things just felt chaotic and confusing.

I had yet to reconcile how Jesus could be born a King in the midst of a bunch of smelly farm animals or why He would love a bunch of sinners or give us free will to decide whether to love Him back or why He would choose forgiveness over justice. Basically, I didn’t understand redemption. Neither the ugly Christmas tree's nor my own.




Over the years, I’ve experienced the way our sufferings—those unwelcome feelings of loneliness, loss, rejection, and disappointment can be transformed into something beautiful. I’ve seen how we become strong in our weakness; compassionate in our sorrow; and how hard times soften us. All of life’s brokenness that we don’t want, don’t deserve, and didn’t ask for has a way of making us more whole when we let God’s love and mercy transform our suffering. We celebrate Jesus’s birth at Christmas and it’s new and shiny and hopeful. But He didn’t come here to be shiny. He came to save. The reason we celebrate His life is because ultimately, He redeems ours with His death.

That’s heavy stuff to ponder when we can easily focus on stacks of presents, twinkling lights, or perfectly decorated Christmas trees. But I tell you it’s the best part of Christmas—this realization that redemption is continuously available to us. This transformation that adds color and dimension to the pieces of our hearts that have become flat and jaded. This knowing that with God there’s a place for misfits and that no matter what we’ve done or how far we’ve strayed God isn’t going to isolate us on some snowy island. He’s going to embrace us with the warmth of his love. This is the redemption that is born on Christmas Day and that is available to us throughout the year.


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We celebrate Jesus’s birth at Christmas and it’s new and shiny and hopeful. But He didn’t come here to be shiny. #catholicmom

This is the redemption that I couldn’t recognize as a teenager but that I see all these years later when I think of my mom as a single parent taking me to pick out a tree. On the car ride home, we laughed about the mostly dead evergreen we just bought. We decorated it and with its gaping holes and spindly leaves it stood as a lopsided witness to that year’s Christmas. All these years later it still stands in my memory—an ugly tree, a happy memory. In between, the birth of redemption.



Copyright 2022 Lara Patangan
Images:  Canva