As Christmas draw near this year, I find myself searching for those few parts of the season that actually point to Christ.
We are surrounded by gaudy displays of lights, greedy appeals from stores, and Santa-suited men sitting under fake evergreen trees. I don't need to tell you what would happen if a store dressed an employee up like Jesus and had Him greeting customers.
I picture wide-eyed tots sitting on His lap saying, "Please heal grandma's rheumatoid arthritis, find Uncle Mike a job and help Aunt Clarissa with her drinking problem."
The Christmas carols still mention Jesus (oh, not Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but others). But society seems to leave it up to us to find Christ in Christmas more and more.
This year I'd like to put Christ back in the Christmas tree.
Of course, there were no Christmas trees in the little town of Bethlehem. They aren't mentioned in the Bible. As near as I can figure, they started showing up in the 1500s in the Alsace region of Germany -- possibly as a combination of the "paradise tree" sometimes depicted in early plays about Adam and Eve and the Christmas lights popular in the late Middle Ages.
The Christmas tree has been criticized by some.
Lutheran theologian Johann Dannhauer wrote about it in "The Milk of the Catechism," calling the Christmas tree "child's play."
"Far better were it to point the children to the spiritual cedar-tree, Jesus Christ," he wrote.
But that isn't really such a stretch, is it?
The trees in the "paradise plays" were adorned with apples to signify the sin of Adam and Eve. The plays typically ended with the promise of the coming Savior and His promise of eternal life. The fir tree -- or evergreen -- was chosen to symbolize the gift of everlasting life.
The tree also reminds us of the crucifixion of Christ. Interestingly, scripture often refers to His death on a tree, rather than on a cross.
"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." -- 1 Peter 2:24
"The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead--whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree." -- Acts 5:30
"We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree." -- Acts 10:39
"When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb." -- Acts 13:29
So, this Christmas season, we don't need to get rid of the Christmas tree or the lights. We need only see the tree as a symbol of Christ's sacrifice for us, and the lights as a symbol of Jesus, the light of the world.
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I enjoyed your article. I dont observe Christmas with a tree or lights but I do observe it in my heart. Because I observe differently I dont criticize those who do have trees because we are all servants of God and as we are presuaded by our own minds we observe Christ birth and sacrifice. Your article gives hope to many who were made to feel that it was a waste of time and a pagan issue. Thank you for seeing God in it. We should observe Him in all things.
This puts the tree in the right place in Christmas. Your point that Jesus was often mentioned as dying on "the treee" instead of the cross is very insightful. I'm saving this article for referance and getting my husband to read it. There are some good thoughts for an up and coming minister.
Al, what a great lesson on the Christmas tree. The world would like to discredit all things to do with the true CHRISTmas. This article on the tree was great and gives us something to focus on when we see the lighted tree this Christmas. Blessings and have a very merry Christmas.
Very well done, Al. I enjoyed this piece very much. I agree whole-heartedly that it is how we look at things that makes them meaningful and Christ-centered. And certainly the "tree" fits this use. I myself will think of our evergreen a bit differently from now on thanks to your fine article. Keep up the good work for God's glory. Yours in His name, ladybug Karen