The year was 1973. I was pastoring in the Midwest at the time. My dad, who owned the Mercantile at Polebridge, had sold me some ground along the river where we had built a small cabin that we could use as a retreat. That cabin later burned down in a forest fire.

Christmas is a bad time of the year for a pastor to be gone from his church, but the church leaders had granted us to be gone for Christmas that year. It is interesting to drive from the Midwest, across the country to northwest Montana in the middle of winter. The car was loaded with everything we thought we would need. Polebridge is off the grid, so that meant having Christmas in a remote place, not knowing how cold it would be and how much snow there may be that we would have to contend with.

We arrived safely and began the process of unpacking and warming the place up with the old wood stove. There are no supermarkets in this remote place [1973] so all the food and all the other items that make Christmas, Christmas had to be pre-planned and carried with us.

One item we could not carry with us was the tree. So, the first item on the agenda after everything was sorted out was to find a tree. This was no problem because there were trees all around us. The only problem was, there were about three feet of snow on the ground. So my son and daughter strike out in the snow to find our prize. It is difficult to know what a tree will look like, after 3 feet of snow melt. We found what we thought was the best tree in the county and drug it about a half mile back to the cabin.

My wife was not really happy to have this tree laying on the floor with a blanket under it, while the snow melted off this prize, but soon we had the ten-foot tree sitting in the corner waiting to be trimmed.

Since we were in this remote location, there was no power for lights. Popcorn threaded on a string, construction paper ornaments and a few items brought from home made our tree complete. On Christmas eve, with gas lights shining through the darkness, we gathered around the tree. I read the Christmas story. We sang some carols, and our son distributed a few gifts we had room to bring with us. Christmas day we gathered around a lunch table I had built and had our Christmas dinner. It was way too soon that we had to stow everything away, repack the car and head back to our responsibilities.

I will never forget that Christmas. The day has changed so much. There are all the commercialization and responsibilities that surround us. There are events I must attend and responsibilities and obligations to fulfill. We breathe a sigh of relief when it is all over, and we retreat to January.

For most, it is impossible to escape. Our technology has brought us so many things that are necessary for us to exist today, but it has also created a world where that which is most significant has been replaced by that which is necessary.

What is most significant? If I have allowed the most significant to be replaced by what is necessary, what is it that I have lost? For each of us, the answer to that question will be different. Perhaps it is the tyranny of the urgent. The reason the Christmas that I referred to earlier has never left me is that I had been driven by responsibilities and expectations. My vision had been narrowed down to personal goals and what others expected of me. Isolated the way I was, for just a few days, allowed me to reset my inner computer. What was significant for me was my family, to be with them and just relax. There were no expectations placed on me other than having the joy of tromping through the snow with my children and finding the right tree. It sounds so simple, but life can become so complex, and I place unrealistic expectations on myself. I feel like a failure. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Life drains from me like water through a sieve.

Christmas. Yes, it places extra responsibilities on me. Yes, it is possible to lose control and allow January to set my mood. But please, do not fall into the pit. It is hard and very messy to get out of it.

When Jesus was born, there were angels that appeared to a group of shepherds camped in the hill country around Bethlehem. Their words to these men, who were rejected by society were, “Do not be frightened for behold I bring you good news and great joy…today, in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, which is Christ the Lord…and suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace towards men…”.

Peace and joy. Where do I find them? Is there a sale on peace and joy at one of the box stores? Am I too late, have they all been purchased? What is the price? Do I have enough on my credit card to buy them? Not to worry. They are not for sale but are a free gift from God to those who seek them.

There are times when we must disconnect from the culture around us. I know, there are so many demands on my life and so many expectations. How do I disconnect from this life that I have created? Perhaps it is not as complicated as you may think. Perhaps I must find the “reset” button and determine what is of the most value. What is the most significant?

I will never forget that Christmas, disconnected from what I felt was so important. When I returned, my church was still there…in fact, they may not have even missed me. But I created a memory and I found something that I still have today.

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