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CHRISTMAS CUSTOMS

THE TREE

One of our most-loved Christmas customs is the Christmas Tree. Whether you bought yours at the shops or took your axe and chopped it down in ‘the bush’, whether it’s so large it fills half your lounge room or so tiny it stands on your coffee table, there it is. And it seems to be a thing of joy.

But what has the tree to do with Christmas, with the real Christmas? Some Christians will have nothing to do with Christmas celebrations, including the Christmas tree, because they fear that there are pagan connections and pagan connotations. But here we should ask a different question: not ‘Does the Christmas tree have a pagan history?’ but rather: ‘Why do so many pagan mythologies contain a focus on trees, and indeed, on a tree of life?’ Are Christians borrowing from pagan practices? Or are Christians here reclaiming and re-affirming the original significance of the Tree, of which historic pagan practices constitute a shadowy and distorted residual memory?

We do not have to read very far in the Bible to come upon the Tree. It is there, right at the beginning, in Eden, in that perfect, pristine world that existed prior to our human sin. And if we are those who take a sneak peek at the end of a book before we read the whole, we will find the Tree there, right at the end, in that perfect world that will endure forever after the final overthrow of all that is evil.

Its name is ‘the Tree of Life’.

We read that when God’s perfect world was corrupted by sin our access to the Tree of Life was banned. But we also read that those who have true faith in Jesus Christ and receive forgiveness by means of his death have unending access to the Tree of Life.

And we wonder ‘What is this Tree of Life?’ Is it a real tree that gives unending physical life? Or is it a symbol of ‘eternal life’ – that living relationship with God for which we were created and for which we are saved? As we ask this question we find a surprising answer: that the Tree speaks of God himself.

And then we realize that this is not surprising at all: for Jesus Christ claimed repeatedly to be ‘Life’ and to give life, and the New Testament writers taught an essential connection between Jesus Christ and life.

If the Tree itself speaks of Jesus Christ and the eternal life that we have in him, what of all the things that we attach to the tree?

The angel on the very top tells the story of the angelic messengers who announced his divine conception and his human birth.

The stars that we hang on the branches represent the star that led the wise men to worship him.

The spherical balls speak of his eternal existence – without beginning, without ending.

The bells ring out the joy of his coming and the joy that he came to give.

The shining brilliance of the glitter and the tinsel remind us that he is the King, the Lord of glory, whose appearances recorded in the Scripture were accompanied by overwhelming and unapproachable radiance.

The lights silently announce that he is the Light of the world, that we if we follow him we no longer walk in spiritual darkness, but have the Light of life.

The gifts, prepared by us to give to one another, speak of the incomparable Gift which God prepared for us from before the beginning of time.

The Christmas Tree is a well-loved decoration: but it is also a declaration – a declaration that encompasses the whole of biblical history: the beginning and the end, and that all-important central fact of the incarnation when he who is God deliberately became man, when he who is Life deliberately embraced our death to re-open the way back to himself, the Tree of Life.

 

Scriptures: Genesis 2:9; Revelation 22:2; Genesis 3:24; Revelation 2:7; 22:14; Hosea 14:8; John 3:16; 11:25; 14:6; 1:4; 3:36; 1John 1:1,2; 5:12; Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:26-38; 2:8-14; Matthew 2:1,2; John 8:58; Luke 2:10; John 15:11; Mark 9:2-3; Daniel 7:9,10; Ezekiel 1:27,28; Revelation 1:14,15; John 3:18; 8:12; 12:46; Ephesians 1:7; 2:7; 2Timothy 1:9.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2013