An original Christmas tale by Dan and Cathy Shackelford

The Redwoods swayed majestically in the gentle breeze for they were tall, stately, beautiful, and proud. Very proud.

"Behold my girth!" cried out one boastfully. "There is none who can challenge my strength and might! Though the winter gales may rage with fierceness I shall stand firm and not topple for great is my size. I am more powerful than all!"

"Attend to my stature!" boasted yet another. "I am ruler of all that I see for none stands taller than I. Not one can stand in my way. I overshadow all for none overshadow me."

"Observe my raiment," swooned another, exaggerating each sway to impress the others. "Are I not the most beautiful of all? My bark so red, my branches stretching like a royal canopy; swaying like a graceful swan of the skies."

As their boasts echoed arrogantly in the heights, gentle murmurings floated peacefully through the forest depths. A small frail fir consulted a weathered old fir. "The giants of our forest speak often of their greatness. Are we then nothing, as they so often assume?" inquired the young fir. "Nay. We all have the same Maker and He has made each of us special. Each of us has a special purpose in His Creation," answered the wise fir. "But they have been created more special than we, have they not?" persisted the youth. "They would like us all to believe as such. But no, they are no greater than we anymore than we are greater than they. Each has been created for a unique purpose. Each has been planned and cared for by the Creator." "But why do they talk so often of their greatness?" "They are deceived. They do not acknowledge that their greatness comes from their Maker. They believe it comes from themselves. But can any add to or subtract from his girth or his stature or his beauty? Can any lengthen his days at will? No, they are gifts from the Maker. The proud shall be brought down and the humble exalted."

Little Fir was silent as he thought on these things.

One early fall day, the sun shone bright and warm; its rays reflecting the Creator's glory as it glistened off the early morning dew. Birds chirped. Leaves rustled. All was peaceful. Suddenly, the stillness was broken by a powerful screaming. The screaming bore on for several moments. Then all was silent. But its silence was more powerful than its scream for it was then that a mighty Redwood crashed to the ground. And there it lay; defeated in the depths of the forest.

The screamer raged on throughout the day and many Redwoods fell. Their limbs were torn off and their bark stripped from them. They were then cut into shorter lengths and hauled away.

The sun set and the screamer left, leaving peace in the land once more. The evening breeze stirred up the remaining Redwoods and their talk began anew.

"Now I am the mightiest Redwood in the forest!" boasted one.

"And I am the tallest!" boasted another.

"But I am the most beautiful!" swayed yet another.

And the murmurings of forest depths continued.

"It pains me deeply to see the great ones fall." lamented Little Fir. "Yes, it is sad. But don't you see? They are not so great as they supposed. For one moment they stand proudly, but the next they are fallen. And they have no power to stop it. The proud shall be brought down and the humble exalted," Wise Fir repeated. "But whatshall become of them?" questioned Little Fir. "They shall be sliced into many planks and sold. Some shall be made into houses for man. Some into tables, chairs, benches, or fences. They shall be made into whatever man desires." "Will they then come for us?" asked Little Fir anxiously. "I do not desire to leave our forest. It is so beautiful and I look forward to our evening talks." "We have not been promised a life of luxury with all our desires met." Wise Fir began. "It is enough for us to serve our Creator according to our calling. Whatever happens, wherever you may be; do not forsake your calling. You can and must serve our Creator in any place. And you must do so with a cheerful heart."

Little Fir was silent as he thought on these things.

Morning came and the screamer returned. For three long weeks it came. Then it came no more for there were no more Redwoods to fell. And sadness spread over the forest floor because of the loss of the great ones. But the sun shone more intensely upon the remaining trees for the great ones were no longer there to keep out the rays. And the rains fell more freely to the depths. And so the lesser trees flourished.

A year passed and winter came again to the forest and with it shouts and laughter of menfolk. They trudged through the crusty snow, studying each tree they came to before passing by. Soon they came to Little Fir. He was small, but his boughs spread out gracefully on all sides. All the menfolk commented on his beauty and he blushed with humble embarrassment. They gathered around him with picks and shovels.

"Oh no!"Little Fir cried out to his friend. "Wise Fir, help me!" Digging his roots deeper into the frozen ground, he grasped and clutched at dirt-clods and stones. "Fear not, Young Friend," comforted Wise Fir. "Do not resist them for this is your calling. Go with them and do your best to serve the Creator with a cheerful heart." Reluctantly, Little Fir relaxed his grip. "I shall miss my home and I shall miss you sorely," he lamented. "And I you," Wise Fir called out in a choking voice. "But we must not forsake our calling. Go in peace and it shall be well with you."

Little Fir was brought to a small village. His roots were bound up snuggly within a burlap bag and he was set in a great pot in the center of a large clearing. They brought him food and water and talked of a special day which was fast approaching.

The special day soon came and the villagers gathered in the clearing. But none came empty handed. Benches were set in place forming a circle around Little Fir. He felt uneasy being the center of their attention. Tables were brought and piled with food and juice. Chairs were set up behind the benches. So much excitement. So much talk. But Little Fir remained silent as he pondered on these things.

The benches, tables, chairs, and nearby houses began to talk.

"Such a cold night. The houses now have their coats of paint to warm them. But we have neither paint nor leaves to clothe us," complained the benches. "We should not be out of the houses on a night such as this!"

"Behold my legs!" boasted a stout chair. "True tis cold. But I am stout and I am strong. I can weather the likes of this!"

"Attend to my stature!" boasted a large three-story house. "I am ruler of all that I see for none stands taller than I!"

"Observe my beauty!" cried out a table. "How smooth and flat is my surface; polished to perfection. No splinters upon me to mar my beauty and worth!"

"Why look before us!" gasped a bench. "Is it not Little Fir? Why have we been brought here to surround him?! Are we not each far better than ten of his kind?"

"See how scrawny and frail he is!" taunted a chair.

"To be sure!" agreed a house. "There is not enough of him to house a dog, let alone a fine, large family such as I do!"

Little Fir stood humbly silent in the midst of their jeers.

Soon the people gathered around to sit on benches or chairs. Though the night was cold they did not seem to mind. Bundled in furs and mittens with hearts warmed with thankfulness, they gathered around. Several carried small bundles. A voice rang out firmly, yet cheerfully. It sounded weathered and wise and reminded Little Fir of his friend in the forest. "Welcome, Friends. Welcome, Brothers and Sisters in our Lord. Welcome, as we celebrate with joyous thanksgiving the birth of our Savior. Let us open with prayer." Following a time of prayer, they sang many songs.

"How wonderful is this music!" thought Little Fir. "It is more beautiful than the whispering breezes and rustling leaves and chirping birds of morn! These praises bring me such joy." He swayed gracefully to the music.

The hymms ended all too soon for Little Fir, but he did not complain. He waited patiently to see what might come next.

The wise and weathered man again stepped forward. "Let the time of Thankful Rememberance begin!" A moment of silence elapsed before an elderly man stepped forward. Clearing his throat he spoke solemnly, "I bring bitter herbs to remind us of the bitterness of our slavery to sin before our redemption. We all sin and our sinfulness is indeed very bitter... bitter to ourselves, bitter to others, and bitter to our Lord who gave His precious life to save us." Everyone nodded in agreement as he hung his gift on Little Fir and then returned to his seat. Little Fir shuddered at his words.

An elderly woman approached the center. Her voice was high and broken with emotion as she explained her gift. "Our Lord is Lord of all. He lives in glory in Heaven. But He gave all this up when he came down to a sinful, ungrateful world to be born as a helpless baby. I bring this crown to remind us of the glory He left behind because of His love for us." She hung her gift on the tree and returned to her seat. Again Little Fir shuddered.

A weathered woodcarver brought two hand-carved figurines: one of Mary and one of Joseph. Hanging them gingerly on the tree, he spoke simply. "May each of us parents strive to raise our children as though we too were raising the Son of God."

Next came a little girl who walked shyly up to Little Fir, lovingly carrying a little baby doll. Fondling Little Fir's needles nervously with her free hand, she spoke in her high childish voice. "This is my baby and I love her lots... but not as much as I love Jesus." She gingerly laid her little treasure upon the boughs of the young tree and then rushed into her mother's open arms. Little Fir quivered with excitement.

A star was set on the highest branch and many angels strung throughout. Then the people dispersed to various tables for the stringing of popcorn/cranberry garlands. A variety of resident birds waited anxiously amidst the branches of nearby trees. The stringers buzzed excitedly as they worked. At last the garlands were ready and laid carefully on Little Fir's boughs. Everyone gathered in a circle facing Little Fir and candles were handed out. The wise and weathered man, standing before Little Fir, motioned his congregation to silence. Holding up his cross necklace, his vibrant voice filled the air. "It is for this that our Lord came to earth as a helpless babe--to redeem those who were lost. We were all lost in sin, but now are found; were blind, but now we see. Please join me in singing "Amazing Grace."

Little Fir quivered with excitement as the sweet melody began and the wise and weathered man turned to face him. Reverently, the humble shepherd of the flock hung the cross necklace--the symbol of his Savior's loving sacrifice--upon the bough, above the baby doll.

Hymms resounded triumphantly well into the night. Slowly the flock of believers dispersed, taking with them their belongings. Little Fir was left all alone in the center of the great clearing. He pondered the actions and words he'd heard that night and he marveled in awe at what had happened so many years before on the first Christmas and the first Easter. He praised his Maker for allowing him to be a part of the remembrance of this loving act of redemption.

The benches, tables, chairs, and houses also marveled at what they had seen and heard that night. They had been humbled. They were not great. Their Maker had humbled Himself to be born a helpless baby, to be a servant, to suffer and die for man. He did so in love and mercy for He is perfect; they are not. He is worthy of all glory and honor; they, worthy of death. He offers them the free gift of eternal life.

Winter past. Spring came to take its place, bringing with it an abundance of new life. Men came and carried Little Fir to the yard of a special house; a house built of the humblest of members. They set him in a spacious hole and covered his roots with the richest of soils. Stretching out his roots after the long winter, he praised his Maker.

Every Sunday for the rest of his days, he would awaken to the song of the birds of the skies. A majestic bell would toll, calling in the flock. They would fill the special house; their praises ringing out for all to hear. And then came the voice of the wise and weathered man; the voice which reminded him so much of his friend of the forest. Little Fir would still himself as he listened to and pondered on the things that were, the things that are, and the things that are to come. And he praised his Maker.


John 3:16

© 1998 Cathy Shackelford - All rights reserved

Dan and Cathy Shackelford are members of Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church in Lake Stevens, Wa. They have nine children. Dan tells them stories, and Cathy has written this story based on one he told their children.

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