Ever been caught in one of those awkward moments when you are just standing there unaware of the fact you are directly under the biggest sprig of mistletoe you have ever seen? There you stand, almost looking "desperate" to any passerby, all the while totally unaware of your precarious perch! It may not faze you much, but it would mortify me if someone caught me "under the mistletoe" and I had no clue who that I was even there! It would be one thing if I "planned" it! Lest you think I am a "mistletoe" phobic, I am not. I am just a little "selective" about who kisses me ANYWHERE, let alone under the mistletoe! As we continue our look into some of our Christmas traditions and signs of the season, we would remiss not to look into the origin of this practice. Did you know the "belief" behind mistletoe is one of ensuring fertility? Now, consider that one the next time you perch under that red bow festooned innocent looking sprig! In some countries such as Scandinavia, warring spouses were actually asked to kiss under the mistletoe in order to return peace to the home! If it were only that easy, my friends! What most of us don't know is the this seemingly harmless little sprig of greenery displayed in our holiday homes is actually a parasite! It thrives off of the life of another!
Stay joined to me, and I will stay joined to you. Just as a branch cannot produce fruit unless it stays joined to the vine, you cannot produce fruit unless you stay joined to me. I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit. But you cannot do anything without me. If you don’t stay joined to me, you will be thrown away. You will be like dry branches that are gathered up and burned in a fire. Stay joined to me and let my teachings become part of you. Then you can pray for whatever you want, and your prayer will be answered. When you become fruitful disciples of mine, my Father will be honored. (John 15:4-8 CEV)
In actuality, mistletoe is what botanists refer to as a "partial parasite". It actually grows on the branches and trunks of trees, taking the nutrition it needs to thrive directly from the tree. It actually sends out roots that "burrow into" the tree and suck out the life supply from the tree. It is not rooted in soil, but in the tree itself. It can grow on its own, but it thrives in the trees because of this tremendous power it has to root itself in the tree. The damaging effect of mistletoe is well-known to those who live in European countries or down the East Coast in the US. It can suck the life right out of the trees, allowing damaging molds and mildews to penetrate the touch bark of the tree which was designed to act as the tree's barrier of defense against the effects of such damaging forces of nature. It also provides a source of protection for birds of the air looking for a good place to nest in these trees - kind of like a natural "resort" for their nests to take hold.
As we consider the "opportunistic" features of this plant, we might just find a few lessons we can take to heart. We are all meant to take root - but it is not a parasitic type of rooting we need! When Jesus speaks of us taking root, he describes more of a "grafting" process whereby we are grafted into the vine. In time, we take our nourishment from the vine because we are "linked" to the vine by the grafting process. The mistletoe sends out its own roots and burrows deep into the life supply of the tree. The Christian is asked to allow his life to be severed from the old way of living, grafted into a special place on the "main vine" (Jesus), and then to learn to take his supply from the vine, not what we can find on our own!
Since this parasitic plant has such potential for damage to the host tree, those who observe its presence actually seek to remove it from the tree. In time, if left to its own devices, it will overtake the tree, bringing the tree into submission to it, rather than the tree bringing it into submission. Think on that one a moment, my friends. We can choose to be parasitic in our growth - taking, taking, and taking - until we become the dominant life; or we can choose to be cut off from the old way of living and allow ourselves to learn to take life from the one who gives it on our behalf. It is a matter of which "will" will win out! Ours or his!
By definition, a parasite is anything (or anyone) which takes life from a host without returning anything in turn. I don't think this defines the grafting process, for when we take "hold" in the vine, we actually begin to produce fruit which not only brings glory to the "host" vine, but it provides nourishment for others who are seeking refreshing. The parasitic effect of mistletoe is quite the opposite - for it is not life-giving in any respect. It takes until there is no more to take, then "branches out" to take more elsewhere. In essence, it is kind of a selfish and flighty plant! It has its own needs in mind and it "uses" others to further its own agenda! This certainly does not describe the life Jesus desires of those who follow him!
So, whether we subscribe to the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe or not, let us take a lesson from the green sprig. Life lived "off" another is quite different than life lived "in" another. Just sayin!