Carpenter, as in not someone’s name, but rather the vocation. The wood worker that cuts down trees and uses sharp gouges to make houses and three-legged stools.
And not just any carpenter, but THE carpenter. Jesus could have been any profession in the world. But he was a worker of wood, a simple carpenter by trade. When I volunteered to do a tablescape for the Christmas brunch event at our church, the first thing I thought of was Christmas trees and wood, and how significant wood is in relation to Christmas and Jesus… and me.
Jesus worked in a wood shop. He used logs and blocks of wood. He used saws and gouges.
At the end of a day he would have had the glorious smell of aromatic sawdust and curly wood shavings clinging to his garments.
As an apprentice, one of the first pieces of furniture he would have made would be a three-legged stool.
Three legged stools can sit firmly on uneven surfaces.
And if one leg is a little longer than the other, the stool still works so it is the perfect beginner’s project for making furniture.
My dad enjoyed wood working as a hobby but he didn’t build furniture. He built his own house, he loved cutting down trees and chopping wood, and he loved carving.
I learned to carve by watching him. “Never fight the grain of wood,” he quietly said. “Work with the grain, not against it. Take tiny cuts. You can’t put wood back but you can always cut away tiny bits. Take your time.”
My father had incredible patience and I watched in silence as he made tiny cuts in the wood.
I was 22 when I married and moved away from home. All I learned about woodworking was during my childhood but I never forgot my father’s skill. My father passed away just a couple days before Christmas, two years ago. But instead of having the memory of his passing be something hard, it is beautiful this time of year. Because my father worked with wood and so did Jesus. My dad never got to see my carving. But somehow, I think he knows and is glad.
Wood workers mark their tools and their woodwork. It’s called a “maker’s mark.” My dad carved his name into the gouges he made from nails.
He carved his name and date in his carvings.
He sometimes carved the location where he made his piece.
Jesus knew all the details of woodworking.
His first contact with wood was being laid in a wood manger, a feeding trough for animals. It was rustic and rough.
As he grew, He learned how to shape wood and smooth wood, remove tiny bits to make something functional and beautiful. He knew which trees were strong, which had the best grain, which smelled aromatic. And he would have known about maker’s marks.
As I put together my Carpenter tablescape, I included two wood cross beams leaning against the back of the creche.
After spending a life working with wood, Jesus’ last contact with wood was being nailed to it.
And there, in the cross, was Jesus’ “maker’s mark”, the nail prints.
This Christmas, what is precious to you? To me, it is the memory of my dad, the wood carver.
And being blessed with the ability to work with wood like my dad and Jesus, The Carpenter.