traditions: trimming the tree

I’ve said it before and have no shame in mentioning it again.

I love Christmas.

Prior to Thanksgiving, I decided to decorate my apartment since I would be away during the holiday 14aa4b07b7c8e786dcf8d175e25282a0weekend and wanted to come home to Christmas. The balcony had been decorated during one of the last 50 degree days of October (early, I know, but that’s what we do in Minnesota).

I hauled out my new tree, last years’ ornaments, the matching, deep-red tree skirt, and other odds and ends. As I was wrapping glittered, net-style ribbon around my little tree, I pondered how they got their start and the connection to Jesus.

Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him… John 19.17-18

Let’s start with the Christmas tree’s history: It’s been said that the Christmas tree has its roots buried in Germany. Ever hear of the term tannenbaum? It’s the German word for Christmas tree. In 1570, a small tree was decorated with what we now consider holiday foods and was set up in the 16th century equivalent of today’s gentleman’s club: a guild-house. Children were allowed to collect those treats (apples, nuts, dates and pretzels) on Christmas Day.

Wax candles were added to the mix in the 18th century and eventually, the tradition spread to other countries.

By the end of the 19th century, the Christmas tree was termed a Christmas tradition. Artificial trees were introduced and they, too originated in Germany.

The connection to Jesus: I think of God’s story…our history.

When you start in the book of Genesis and follow His story to Revelation, there are two trees: The first trees in the garden and the tree where Jesus gave his life.

Trees are a symbol of strength, growth, prosperity, intimacy, life and death. They provide context for both the sorrow and hope of mankind. A tree is at the center of our fall into sin and is also at the center of our salvation.

God created us in his image; to commune with him through an eternal life of worship. This life was embodied in the Tree of Life in the midst of Eden. And it was through the abuse of another, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, that Adam and Eve were separated from the Tree of Life; from God himself. Hope seemed lost forever.

But God, in his great mercy and grace, offered another way through his Son at Calvary.

At Christmas, Christians around the world celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

We celebrate our hope.

His story climaxes on the tree at Golgotha; on the cross.

That last tree, the cross, was a far cry from the one gracing my living room. That first tree wasn’t a beautiful evergreen found among many on a tree farm or in the woods. It was a piece of rough-hewn wood with no natural beauty and its sole purpose was to bring misery and pain and eventually death. Its only beauty was in the purpose for which God intended in using it: to restore our relationship with him.

Instead of being decorated with white lights and ornaments from my childhood, the Light of the World hung upon its limbs, his body beaten and bruised by those responsible for his punishment.

There was no tree skirt or fake snow beneath this tree. Instead, the ground was stained crimson red by the blood shed for the sins of the world.

We share stories of Christmases past, sing Christmas carols and joyful laughter around our trees today. Those who did so then were hurling insults and mocked the Son of God – Emanuel – God with us. He was shown no mercy and yet, chose to show us mercy.

Remember those gifts tied to the branches of the first originating “Christmas trees”? This may very well be the only similarity between our tree and the tree on which my Savior died. The greatest gift of all was “tied” to the branches of the tree on Golgotha. There he died and paid the penalty for not my sin, but the sins of the entire world. There, he gave a gift, a free gift, so unlike those we give to one another and this gift is still active, alive and available today.

My tree is placed in a prominent position in my living room: right in front of the giant glass patio doors for the world (well, my little world anyway) to see. Just as my tree has that vantage point, I have to make that same choice to have the cross placed in a prominent position in my life and in my heart. Does the world see him through the way I live? Through my actions? Through my words? Do they?

I challenge you to look beyond the tree gracing your home, if you have one, and see the tree on which Jesus gave his life – for you and for me.

Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift. 2 Corinthians 9.15

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