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Saturday, December 6, 2014

O Christmas Tree...

In much earlier times, the celebration of special occasions was marked by the incorporation of some type of evergreen into or around the home.  Why?  For many, this "symbol" of being "ever-green" held some hope of spring relief from the frigid conditions of winter.  The evergreen boughs and plants would be brought into the homes, prominently displayed over doorways, and often adorning the tables during the big feast days.  In a more pagan view of these "evergreens", some believed actually having them displayed warded off evil spirits, witches, and the like.  So, we have a wide variety of beliefs around the custom of displaying the evergreen tree at the holiday season.  The introduction of the "Christmas tree" into homes everywhere began sometime in the 16th century in the country of Germany.  The first "decorated" evergreens are credited to the Germans.  The first lighted tree is credited to Martin Luther, wanting to display the twinkling of God's stars in the midst of the beauty of the tree - yet there are many who would debate that he was the first to make such a display. Most Americans did not start to use the Christmas tree in their holiday celebrations until much later, still adhering to the idea the evergreen display was a bit to "heathen" or belonging to the pagan rituals of the day.  With such a variety of beliefs about the evergreen, how is it we came to almost whole-heartedly accept it as a sign of the season? Trees were part of the worship celebrations, with boughs of trees being used to give fragrance to the home or as part of the fragrant offerings laid upon the altar in honor of God. Although we may not find mention of the Christmas tree in the scriptures, we can see some special meaning in the use of this decor of the season.


The angel showed me a river that was crystal clear, and its waters gave life. The river came from the throne where God and the Lamb were seated. Then it flowed down the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river are trees that grow a different kind of fruit each month of the year. The fruit gives life, and the leaves are used as medicine to heal the nations. God’s curse will no longer be on the people of that city. He and the Lamb will be seated there on their thrones, and its people will worship God  and will see him face to face. God’s name will be written on the foreheads of the people.  Never again will night appear, and no one who lives there will ever need a lamp or the sun. The Lord God will be their light, and they will rule forever. (Revelation 22:1-5 CEV)


The Christmas tree is green - although there are a lot of different varieties of "artificial" trees these days which vary in color.  The evergreen is the traditional tree of the season.  In the consideration of the meaning of this "ever-green" state of living, we might just conclude the Christmas tree could stand for the everlasting life given to us through the sacrificial death of Christ. The tree gives its life in order to be used in celebration of Christmas.  This might also remind us of the nature of Christ's willingness to give his life in order that we might come to fully appreciate eternal life with our heavenly Father.  The rich pine fragrance emanates in the room, bringing the sense of cleanness to the air.  I don't know of a way for us to have a "clean life" than to breathe in the breathe of God's Spirit, renewing us within and regenerating our souls.  You won't find these "symbolisms" in the scriptures, but you can conclude many ideas about the use of the "green" tree in our celebration of Christmas, can't you? 

Even the star at the top of this tree carries some reference to the first Christmas those many years ago.  The star appeared high in the sky, guiding the wise men, announcing his birth, giving testimony of his arrival.  To adorn the tree with the star or even an angel at the top is symbolic of the announcement of his birth.  One could say the lights twinkling brightly on the branches are a reminder of the light Christ brings into an otherwise very dark world. The ornaments, colorful and varied in shapes and sizes, might just symbolize the vastness of God's love for all of humanity - red, yellow, black, white - none excluded, all displayed in their brilliance.  

Regardless of the symbolism we might choose to associate with the tree, there is something of beauty in the display of this symbol of Christmas.  The tree is seen as a sign of life in all cultures.  We look to trees to give us shelter, provide us with fuel for our fires to keep us warm on cool winter nights, and to provide us with fruits in season to fill our empty bellies. The use of a tree as a symbol of what Christ has done for us in his sacrificial death is not pagan by any means.  We just cannot reference the meaning of the Christmas tree to anything scriptural - for we don't see it at all in scripture.  Yet, we do see many uses of trees, tree branches, and the products of the trees in worship and celebration.  As the Passover was about to occur on that infamous night in Egypt, God instructed Israel to take branches of hyssop, dip them in the blood of the lamb they were to prepare for their dinner meal, and "stain" their doors with the blood as a sign of their allegiance to God.  In psalms galore, we are reminded of the shelter of the tree, the depth of its roots, and the importance of being planted well by the streams of provision.  Lots of references to trees and branches in scripture, but not one about the mighty evergreen on display at Christmas time.

If we don't over-think this custom, we might just find rich meaning in the symbolism we  can associate with the actions of Christ.  From the fragrance to the evergreen color - we can find meaning.  From the twinkling lights to the adorning star - we can find meaning.  From the bright ornaments to the gifts below - we can find meaning.  Here is something to ponder as we conclude today:  God's earth (and the new earth to boot) is filled with trees of all shapes and sizes.  These trees line his streets, adorn his walkways, and blanket his hillsides.  In these trees, we find life and healing.  In these trees we see beauty and sheltering boughs were new life can take form.  They produce fruit in season - something for every season of the year.  If we don't see the symbolism in this, then we won't be able to see the symbolism in the simple evergreen of Christmas either.  Just sayin!