On Highway 82 just outside of Albany, GA, near a landscaping firm, there is on a hill a single tree done up completely in white lights. Simple, bright, elegant.

Just up the road is another business, a car dealership, featuring a used car in gaudy livery, with Santa waving from the driver’s seat, with colored lights and the traditional mash-up of accoutrements of Christmas. Vulgar, overdone, in your face.

I thought as I drove past these displays last Friday evening that they represented two approaches to this season. One is quiet, contemplative, focused, restful. The other is rushed, full of unnecessary drama, stress, and worry. And it further seemed to me that the way people approach Christmas is the same way they live their everyday lives. Some seek to do one thing well and without shouting and self-promotion. They are the single tree standing bright against the night. Others are constantly rushing and spending and running, and to what end? Only their own exhaustion and brokenness. They are the gaudy, too-much Santa car.

“Purity of heart,” said the philosopher, “is to will one thing.” And Jesus, the baby of Bethlehem grown up, taught us what that is: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

A single star shone at Christmas, pointing the way. Maybe God was reminding us that life doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham