Sunday, December 2, 2012

O Christmas Tree!

God has given us eternal life, and this life is in is Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. – I John 5:11–12 (NIV)
Have you ever had a Christmas without a Christmas tree? I haven’t, although a couple of times I came close.
When my father lost his job in the steel mill and my mother told us that we couldn’t afford a tree that year, my teenage brother shoveled snow from driveways and I from sidewalks to earn money for a tree. Decades later, I gave my own children the same sad news. My youngest son, then in elementary school, chopped one down from the woods on our property. It was as skinny as he was, but had plenty of holes for decorations.
How did an evergreen tree become one of the most visual and must-have symbols of Christmas?
The tradition of the Christmas tree as we know it today evolved over the centuries. Many are the stories: Ancient Egyptians hung palm rushes in their homes on the winter solstice to celebrate the sun god’s recovery from her yearly illness. The evergreens reminded them that the sun would grow stronger, that spring and summer would come, and green plants would grow again. In addition, they believed the evergreen boughs would protect them from evil and illness.
As with all traditions, the practice of hanging evergreens at the winter solstice spread and changed with time and culture. By medieval times, morality plays were used to teach the common folk, who couldn’t read, the lessons of the Bible. One of the plays, “The Paradise Tree,” depicted Adam and Eve’s fall from grace. Performers brought real fruit trees onstage to represent the tree in the center of the Garden of Eden whose fruit Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat. But performing the play in Europe during winter posed a problem: All the trees were bare—except the evergreen trees. So they hung apples from a pine, spruce or fir tree. In time, people were bringing evergreen trees into their homes and decorating them to celebrate Christmas.
In the sixteenth century, lights were added to the trees. According to the story, Martin Luther was walking home one winter evening and was captivated by the stars sparkling through the evergreen boughs. He went home and added lighted candles to their Christmas tree.
It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the Christmas tree tradition arrived in America. Now, from Thanksgiving to after the New Year, you see all kinds of trees: green, white silver, real, artificial, lighted, unlighted—not only in homes, but also in the mall, social rooms and lobbies, businesses, churches, community parks, town squares. Some communities have tree-lighting ceremonies.
The Christmas tree can go where no nativity scene or cross can go—and it means the same thing: protection from evil and hope for better times. The boughs of evergreen symbolize eternal life—a life we find only through one source: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Day.
When I look at a Christmas tree, Lord God, may I always be reminded of Your love for me—and for all humanity—a love so great it sent Your own Son from heaven to earth to make a way to You. Thank you! Amen.

                                     Special-Tea: Read Revelation 21:1–7; 22: 1–5

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