It was the week before Christmas, and a man went out to buy a Christmas tree for his family. He looked first at the store that had provided a fine tree last year. They were sold out.
He went to a second place, and the story was the same. No trees left. So he drove some distance to a neighboring town. Here, in other Christmas seasons, there had been plenty of trees.
He arrived at the parking lot and looked where the trees were usually propped in row after row. He saw not a single pine needle. The lot was barren of trees.
Surely people were buying their trees much earlier than in years past, he thought as he turned the truck around to head he knew not where.
As he started toward the exit, he saw something green in the corner of his eye. A tree, a single tree, leaning up against a wall. He pulled around, parked, got out and took a look at this lone pine.
It was a tree, but it wasn't much of a Christmas tree, he thought. It was scraggly, and bent, and thin on one--no two sides. He could see why no one had chosen this tree, why it was the last tree in the lot. Surely his family would be disappointed if this was the best he could do.
Still, it was the only tree he had found so far. He looked for a price tag. There was none, as though to confirm that this tree had no value to anyone. So he went inside the store and walked up to the clerk at the cash register.
The tree outside, is it for sale? he asked. Oh, I'm not sure, the clerk answered. I'll have to ask...
Then a voice came from the back of the store, from the one who apparently made these kinds of decisions: If you want that tree, you can have it!
The man paused. You mean I can just take it? For free? Yes, the voice answered, take it, and Merry Christmas to you! Merry Christmas to you, the man replied. And thanks.
He went outside and tossed the tree in the back of the truck. I'll take it, he thought, just in case I can't find a better one.
He drove out of town and picked up speed on the highway. Where to now? He couldn't think of another place to look for a tree. And it was getting dark, and close to supper time. He decided to head for home, sleep on it, and go out again the next day.
But as he drove through the December dusk, his mind played over how that scraggly tree had ended up in the back of his truck. And slowly he realized that he had gone out to choose a tree, and instead a tree had come to him as a gift. It was as though he was the one who had been chosen.
Yes, this tree wasn't perfect--who was?--but it seemed to be meant for them. The more he thought about it the more he realized that all this tree really lacked was a place to belong.
So he took it home to his family, and told them the story, and they welcomed it in. He set it up in the heart of their home, and they decorated it with lights and ornaments and an angel on top.
And it was as bright and beautiful as any Christmas tree had ever been.