What would Christmas be without Christmas trees? Legend has it that it was Martin Luther who first dragged a tree indoors at this season, though most scholars think this story was made up. Whether or not it's true, Christmas trees have certainly become the most cherished symbol of the Christmas season. For a moment, I invite you to consider three truths about these special trees, and how they point to the far greater truth of God's Christmas Tree.
First, a Christmas tree is a tree which is given new life; a tree which has been cut down, killed, and is born again as a beautiful, shining Christmas tree. It's only temporary, of course, but for a short season, a dead evergreen lives again in radiant beauty.
Second, there is no decoration as important as a Christmas tree. Very few homes are without one. All the other lights, wreaths, and knick-knacks come in a distant second to that which stands at the center, the position of honor - usually placed in a window for all to see - the all-important Christmas tree.
Third, Christmas trees often tell a story. From the angel at the top to the nativity scene beneath, many trees proclaim the Christmas story. But that story is often told with decorations and ornaments that tell another story, for many of them belonged to parents or grandparents; some were made or given by loved ones; some are the handiwork of young children. Together they tell the story of our families. They speak of love, warmth, and treasured memories.
All these Christmas tree truths - new life, central importance, the story that is told - are seen in a much more glorious way in God's Christmas Tree.
Perhaps you've already guessed the tree of which I'm speaking. It is a custom in some churches to save some of the bigger limbs of the Christmas tree, stripped of their branches, to be fashioned into a cross for display during Lent or Holy Week. This custom provides us with a near-perfect picture of God's Christmas Tree, for the tiny limbs of that Christmas baby were born into the world to be stretched out and nailed to the tree of the cross.
No Christmas tree ever looked as dead as the blood-stained beams to which Mary's Child was nailed. This was a tree no one would consider dragging into their home, much less displaying before a window. This was a tree you would turn away from in horror and disgust. Yet no Christmas tree ever was the source of new life - a radiant, sparkling rebirth - like the tree of the cross. For hanging on that tree, hanging under God's curse - the curse which hung over our sinful heads - was no less than the glorious Son of God, the bright, shining, Morning Star, whose eternal brightness outshines all the stars of the heavens. That glory was laid aside as He hung in the darkness of a Friday. But on that dead tree, decorated with a dead God, new life was born - for us. Not the temporary life of trees which live again for a short season in our living rooms and then are tossed out by the curb, but a forever life in the beauty of God's limitless living room, from which we will never be tossed out.
That tree - God's Christmas Tree - stands at the very center of our life and hope. All other decorations in life, all the bright, shiny trinkets we amuse ourselves with - all the good cheer and spirit of the season - would be empty and worthless were it not for the fact that God put up a tree outside of Jerusalem, and hung His Son on it. This is the tree that we, His people, must always put in the window of our lives for all to see. It is the duty and delight of His people to proclaim the crucified and risen Christ to the whole world, to lift high the cross for all to see, that many more may be drawn to its radiant beauty - and LIVE!
What a story God's Christmas Tree tells! And, like a Christmas tree adorned with family heirloom ornaments, God's story of a Savior has become our story, too. Each of us, through faith, can look at God's tree and exclaim: That's my Savior - dying for me. It's my sin He's paying for. He loved me that much. He lives for me. He hears my cries for help. He is always with me. And He always will be until, at the last, He comes to gently carry me Home.
May God keep His Christmas Tree at the center of your home and your heart. May its beautiful radiance, its bright, shining glory, lead you all the way through this short season of earthly life to your Heavenly Home. A very blessed Christmas to one and all!
Pastor David Milz
St. John's Lutheran Church