Each year for over 40 years, my suburban church has held a joint Thanksgiving service with a nearby Jewish congregation. The tradition was upended in 2020 by Covid. A joint Zoom service was held instead. But in 2021 we gathered together again. In masks and socially distancing, the joint service was held again.
A few days before the service was scheduled, another member and I came to the church to decorate the communion table. We came prepared with gourds and pumpkins. A cornucopia, fall leaves, and bittersweet garlands were used to signal the harvest and God’s bounty. And when the evening service began I was in my pew ready to give thanks with our two faith communities.
The service proceeded as it always had. The pastor welcomed all who attended. The combined choirs sang. The rabbi gave us her sermon. It was all very wonderful I’m sure. I think. Because, well, I was somewhat distracted. You see as I looked at the Thanksgiving decorations on the communion table I thought I saw something strange.
For there between the fall leaves, alongside the brimming cornucopia was something, I couldn’t quite make out. I squinted in an attempt to see just what was the thing that was nestled in the decorations. Had one of those little jack-o’-lantern flowers somehow turned upside down, and from my somewhat distant pew, make me think it was more than just a flower?
It looked like, a small orange, tiny, toy tiger.
I was sure I was mistaken. Sure, that what I was looking at was just a play of light and color and the need to have my eyeglass prescription checked. Certainly no tiger lurked in the flora and fauna.
The service ended and I waited until the coast was clear before approaching the table for a closer look. Once I was close enough to tuck the bitter sweet garland a little more securely to the table for the next days service, I could see exactly what caused my eyes to play such a trick on me. Up close I could see that, it was, a tiger. A tiny, orange, toy, tiger. There on the be decked communion table this tiger had stood proudly if not too tall, all during the worship service. And it would seem I was the only one who saw him.
The minister was clueless, the rabbi seemed unaware, just me, I was the only one who knew or saw him there. The minister laughed when I told her. We talked about how he probably got up there on the table with the fruit and the vegetables. She thanked me for the decorations. I suggested she retire the tiger before the memorial service scheduled for the next morning.
Thanksgiving is weeks in the rearview mirror now. Christmas is straightahead. But that tiger. I can’t get him out of my mind. Here at my church, we’ve deck the halls with boughs of holly. There are candles and wreaths in our windows. The crèche is on display. But what about the tiger?
Yes my church is decorated, my home is a wash with Christmas sparkle. Maybe your home and house of worship are also dressed in holiday finery. But what about the tiger?
As we worship in face coverings to protect each other, as we scale back or cancel holiday activities we’ve continued to decorate our surroundings. We’re trying to establish that our traditions matter, our holidays are important and they will continue. But what about the tiger?
Sometimes we have to sit in our pew and look really hard, stare if you will, to see the things we must see and recognize. To me that little piece plastic and whimsy is also a reminder. A reminder to look past the decorations and just try to see beyond them. A reminder that the meaning of any holiday can be lost. Thanksgiving itself is often lost in the rush to Christmas. The true gifts of Christmas are easily overlooked in the shopping, the hustle and the bustle that happens even in a worldwide pandemic. Sometimes we have to sit in our pew and look really hard, stare if you will, to see the things we must see and recognize to truly discern Christmas.
A few weeks later the children of the congregation presented their Christmas pageant. Unable to sing due to the Covid protocols, they wore their holiday best and offered their Christmas truth.
Wearing masks they performed as a bell choir. They presented readings about Christmas. And the clever choir Director even had them play percussion instruments in a wonderful rendition of Joy to the World . But to me the true gift of Christmas was this. With only the piano quietly playing and the voices of three adults in the background, the children presented the classic Christmas carol Silent Night in American Sign Language.
Just perfection. A tiger burning bright indeed. I’m just Say’n.