A Christmas Tree to Remember
December 5, 2004 — ©Rev. Linnea E. Carnes
Quentin Schultze shared this story of a Christmas 25 years ago. Pulling up to his mothers ramshackle trailer on a snowy Christmas Eve, he felt trapped between two worlds. As a new Christian, he accepted Gods promised peace. But as a scared young man, he felt childhood memories tugging anxiously at his heart. His alcoholic father, who had died a few years earlier, always complained that his wife had driven him to drink. His older siblings had long ago fled the scene. His mother, who had been diagnosed as schizophrenic, sat alone staring out the window. It seemed as if for years she had done little else. We need a tree, Quinnie, she said. Maybe she did know what day it was. Driving along darkened streets, he found a vacated tree lot with a small, hand-painted sign that read, FREE. He picked up a scraggly balsam tree and put it into the trunk of his car.
A bit giddy about his find, he headed home. The tree represented more than just a lucky deal. On his ride home he though about the significance of the Gospel and that tree. As the tree was, the Gospel is free. We cant buy it. God pours abundant, overflowing grace into the world, we need only to accept it. At home he set up the tree in the tiny living room. His mother looked at the tree, and softly pronounced, Now its Christmas. [Quentin Schultze, A Scraggly Christmas Tree, and Gods Grace, Decision, Vol. 40, No. 12, December 1999, p. 42].
For Quentin Schultze that was a Christmas tree to remember. For his mother, it was the Christmas tree that made it Christmas. If youve grown up in a family where it wasnt really Christmas until the tree was up, you understand.
Thats why there are special ceremonies each year to turn on the lights of the Christmas trees in Chicago, New York City, and many other cities and places. It signifies that the Christmas is here.
Even though many people think its a pagan custom and has no place in the Christian church, I think the Christmas tree has its place in the church. Look with me today at Gods Word, to see again this tree of life.
Gods Tree Stump
Isaiah 11 tells us that the royal line of King David had been cut down like a tree. Only a stump of that family tree remained. Yet out of that stump God caused a new branch to sprout. From what appeared to be a dead tree stump, a new king would arise, a king from the descendants of David.
This king would be like no other. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on himthe Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. He will delight in obeying the LORD. He will never judge by appearance, false evidence, or hearsay. He will defend the poor and the exploited. He will be clothed with fairness and truth. [Is.11:2-4a,5]. This king would be Jesus.
From the royal family of David, God brought forth a Son, his Son, to reign forever and give life to all who would call him King. From a tree that had been cut down, almost destroyed, came lifelife that could not be destroyed.
A Virgin Mother
Turn now to Luke, chapter 1. Here we read, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. [Lk.1:26-27]. Because Joseph was a descendant of David, he and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, the town where David was born, for a census. [Lk.2:4].
Both in Luke 1 where the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, and in Matthew 1 where the angel appears to Joseph, they are told to give the baby the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. [Mt.1:21]. The name Jesus means, Yahweh is salvation. Jesus is our Savior, for saving people is what Jesus came to earth to do.
John the Baptist said of Jesus, Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! [Jn.1:29].
Peter wrote, Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. [1Pet2:24].
Paul stated: Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. [1Tim1:15].
John too affirmed this, saying, We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. [1Jn4:14].
The baby we worship at Christmas is the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Yet it wasnt his miraculous birth that saves us. It wasnt his powerful teaching or amazing healings that save us. And it wasnt even his sinless life that gave us life. It was his death on the cross that brought us salvation. It was Jesus giving up his life on the tree of death that saved us and gave us life. A tree fashioned into an instrument of torture and death became a tree of life.
As Peter said, They killed [Jesus] by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. [Acts10:39b-40].
Jesus, the shoot that grew from the stump of the tree of David, the branch that came to life to give life, gave his life on a tree at Calvary. But God raised him to life again so that death would not have the final word. Life came out of death.
And because Jesus died for our sins and was raised to life that we might have life, we have hope. Jesus, our Savior has promised us a future in heaven with him.
The Tree of Life
Turning now to the end of the story we read in Revelation 22: See, I am coming soon, and my reward is with me, to repay all according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life. [Rev.22:12-14].
The Alpha and the Omega, the One who is life, calls those who have laid down their lives for Him, to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life. Here in Revelation 22 Jesus reminds us of his plan from the beginning that men and women would live forever with Him.
Back in Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve had disobeyed God and eaten the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God realized that they must be banned from the Garden of Eden. Then the Lord God said, See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever [Gen.3:22].
Those who ate from the tree of life would have eternal life. Yet without the forgiveness of sins they would be cut off from God forever. So God put his plan into action, his plan to send his Son, to set us free from sin and death. All who choose Jesus, who accept his death for the forgiveness of their sins, are welcomed back into the presence of God and have eternal life. It was Gods plan from the beginning.
John wrote, God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Those who have the Son have life I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. [1Jn.5:11-13].
The cross brought darkness to the world; the tree of life brings life and light to all who eat of it.
Death is the darkness of the world. Jesus is the light of the world who conquered death.
Sin is the darkness of the world! This baby shall be its light, for he shall shine in the dark and take its sin away. Emmanuel is the infant that shall be born, which means: God with us. [Walter Wangerin, Jr., The Manger is Empty (New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco, Zondervan Publishing House, 1989) 36].
Christmas is about God coming in the flesh to be with us. Its about the gift of life that came in the form of the baby Jesus. Its about Gods light coming into our darkness and giving us the light of life.
So as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas once again, lets not let the busyness of the season make us to forget that Jesus, our Savior, the One who gives us life, is what Christmas is really about.
Henri Nouwen wrote, I often think: A life is like a day; it goes by so fast. If I am so careless with my days, how can I be careful with my life? I know that somehow I have not fully come to believe that urgent things can wait while I attend to what is truly important. It finally boils down to a question of deep and strong conviction. Once I am truly convinced that preparing the heart is more important than preparing the Christmas tree, I will be a lot less frustrated at the end of the day. [Henri J.M. Nouwen in the New Oxford Review (Nov. 1986). Christianity Today, Vol. 35, no. 15. from PreachingToday.com A Prepared Heart].
In the busyness of preparing for Christmas, the Christmas tree can be just another thing we have to do. Or it can be a reminder that Christmas is the celebration of the One who came to give us life. The Christmas tree is a reminder of that never-ending life. Evergreens stay green all year long. Their needles dont turn brown and fall off during the winter. They survive the bitter cold of winter and the scorching heat of summer.
Yet when we cut down a Christmas tree, bring it inside our homes and decorate it, it begins to die. Even set in water, the Christmas tree will only last a few weeks. Thats because it has been cut off from its source of life, its roots.
When we eliminate Christ from Christmas, when we cut ourselves off from the true meaning of this holy day, we dry up. Oh, we may get lots of Christmas cards, and have a beautifully decorated tree, spend wonderful time with our family and friends, and even get lots of Christmas presents.
However, if we havent stayed connected to the source of life eternal, never-ending, life Christmas will be an empty celebration. If we havent taken time to prepare our hearts to receive Christ anew, Christmas will become life-less.
My prayer for each of you is that your Christmas tree will be a Christmas tree to remember, a Christmas tree that reminds you that Jesus came to give us life never-ending life, abundant life, eternal life. Amen.
Interesting. I knew him, back in the day, when he was a lowly grad student.
2Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
3For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
4They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
5They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.