When my oldest child was two and my second child was a wee newborn, I found myself strolling the aisles of the grocery store on Christmas Eve with two tired kids looking for the perfect carrots with the green frilly tops for the reindeer, Santa cookies (because I didn’t have time or energy to make any) and milk… I dragged my tired bones all the way to the last seconds of Christmas so that I “knew” my children felt loved, cherished, and oh-so-American. As I was chucking the items into my cart, with fussy two-year old and crying baby, I stumbled on a miniature birthday cake, so I threw that in because we all know, if Baby Jesus needs anything, it’s a stale, store-bought birthday cake.
My husband was doing three Christmas Eve services that night, and I was flying solo. As I looked at the little table, with carrots, milk and cookies…. oh, and a baby Jesus cake, I felt an ill feeling wash over me. I was cramming all these traditions down the throat of my child and he didn’t even care. I came to the sudden realization that my celebratory display did not even come close to the true gratitude and reverence I had for the birth of my Savior.
By the time Christmas morning rolled around, I ended up resenting baby Jesus!!! Since it was HIS BIRTHDAY we were celebrating, then he was the only reason I felt like my brains had turned to goo, my bank account was empty and the bags under my eyes drooped down to my chin. I was trying to do ALL THE THINGS!! And I couldn’t. This was my moment of surrender, my proverbial “white flag” was raised. I was done playing Christmas.
This blurry picture is the one I snapped that year… please note the cookies and milk for Santa, the carrots for the reindeer and the cake for Jesus… all on the same table… oh bless it.
As I melted into the couch that December 26th I vowed never to repeat the overwhelm I had allowed.
So, I began to strip the excess. I even went through a short stent of, “We won’t even celebrate Christmas”, but after the dust had settled I did believe it was important for me to pause my little life in reverence for the miracle of Christ’s human birth.
It was during those raw, weary months that I was studying through Deuteronomy…. Yes, the book of Deuteronomy. The law, given a second time… so incase you fell asleep during Leviticus, you could reread it again… ha. (I kid, I kid) Actually, Deuteronomy is my most favorite book of the Bible. It is here in scripture where the promise of a new land comes to fruition. Joseph stands with hundreds of thousands of Israelites perched on a hill overlooking their inheritance while Moses is about to take his last breath, God pauses them… and asks for the law to be read once more before crossing the Jordan and setting foot into the Land He called them to.
It is here, in the 2nd reading of the Law that the Lord stopped me in my tracks.
– Deuteronomy 21:22-23-“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.”
As I read this verse, I immediately thought of the most infamous man to “die on a tree”… Jesus. This type of death was the ultimate curse of the Law, and there he hung, dying a cursed death so that He would free ME from the curse of the Law.
And here is where the Christmas Tree comes into play…. Let’s think about the evolution of the “tree” in scripture.
In the beginning the tree represented SIN… starting with Adam and Eve. The thirteenth century church, before and then after the reformation, they used plays called “MYSTERY PLAYS” to share stories from the Bible. We must remember that this was before the invention of Gutenberg printing press in the 1400s, so the population did not have access to books, and most of them were probably illiterate at the time. The local theatre was an extension of the church, and each “guild” was responsible for telling a different story from the Bible.
The most common play performed was the story of Adam and Eve, called the “Paradise Play”. The play would include the story of their sin, their banishment, and the hope of a savior to come. The only prop on stage was an evergreen tree adorned with apples (which represented sin), this tree was later coined as a “Paradise Tree”. The tree eventually went from the stage into the homes of the people, as “Mystery Plays” were outlawed in most of Europe…
The trees were traditionally set up on December 24, the feast day of Adam and Eve, celebrated by the Catholic Church at the time. The tree, loaded with apples, communion wafers and sometimes candy, symbolized both sin and eternal life.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica “online” (yes, I am quoting the Encyclopedia Britannica… so seventh grade of me, huh?!)… “The main prop of a popular medieval play about Adam and Eve was a “paradise tree,” a fir-tree hung with apples, that represented the Garden of Eden. The Germans set up a paradise tree in their homes on December 24, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it; in a later tradition the wafers were replaced by cookies of various shapes. Candles, symbolic of Christ….”
The tree evolved, and glass bulbs replaced the apples, and little lights replaced flickering candles, and a star was added on top to signify Christ’s birth, the coming of redemption!!
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is HE who has been born, King of the Jews? For we saw HIS star in the east, and we have come to worship HIM”
It was through this story that the Lord gently reminded me of the “WHY” of what I do. And how, if I don’t lose perspective, then HE alone is glorified throughout the season. Today, when I see trees in the living rooms of my friends and family, in the stores I visit and the places I go, (because lets face it Christmas trees are everywhere) I see a beautiful, tangible display of Christ’s complete love for me.
The wood that Christ died on, bearing my sin, while the shining star on top beckons me to remember the miracle of JESUS, and through his human birth, death and resurrection, I have the hope of Salvation. I have been rescued!
Galatians 3:13- “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in scriptures, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on the tree’.”
Let us not be distracted by the tinsel, matching colors, and ornate decorations, but lets honestly evaluate the things we do during the holiday and make sure they are intentional celebrations of the savior. And when our children, or grandchildren ask us “why?” we have an answer .
And remember when your family is gathering around the tree, they are really kneeling at the cross.
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