“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…” I speak to you in the name of one God: Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit.
Some of you know that I have a deep and abiding love for Christmas trees, but most of you don’t know why. I grew up on a Christmas tree farm in West Virginia. My family planted the first saplings when I was an infant, and by the time I was in elementary school, our front yard (all four acres of it) was covered with lush, beautiful, round, green Christmas trees. Aside from growing up in loving Christian family, it was the experience of growing up on a Christmas tree farm that has shaped my faith and belief in God more than anything else.
If you were to ask the question, “What is the meaning or significance of the Christmas tree?” most people would say that they are normally conifers (pines/firs), and that their evergreen branches represent the everlasting life found in God. This is a true and powerful statement. While Christmas trees are beautiful all year round, it isn’t until you see them among the empty backdrop of winter that you really appreciate their presence and beauty—the lush green amid the pale brown and gray—the vibrant/constant life amid the idle/intermittent death. But this isn’t the only meaning supporting the significance of the Christmas tree. After living with and observing these trees for years, I believe the Christmas tree can be and is representative of Jesus’ life and work on earth, as well as his everlasting life.
Most people only think about Christmas trees once a year—when they are beautifully decorated and bring new and joyous light to a home. But for me, Christmas trees were part of my everyday life. Like infants, as saplings they need more care and attention to help them to be strong and sturdy. The tree fields were mowed regularly to give room to help foster growth and to develop, and to ensure their classic Christmas tree shape, they needed to be sheared and sculpted after any new growth.
Because I saw them daily, I was also attuned to what they experienced and how that shaped them. Just like us, they know the feeling of the sun shining upon them, the feeling of a cool breeze, and they also experience the vastness of a clear starry sky above. But they also know the perils of predators, cold frigid nights, and blizzard conditions. But even amid all the chaos and destruction that weather can bring, when leaves are blown away and fall too soon because of an early fall storm or when branches snap due to the weight of heavy/wet snow, it is the Christmas tree that remains standing after the storm. It is the Christmas tree that has branches unique enough to hold the extra weight. And when the time comes for families to choose the perfect tree to celebrate Christ’s coming into our world, always with smiles on their faces and joy in their hearts, the Christmas tree then sacrifices its life to bring new life into the homes of those who seek it.
For some, this is where the significance and meaning of the Christmas tree will stop. They might have a tree in their home that is purely decorative—simply for its beauty and to bring joy to anyone who sees it. But for others, it’s not just about aesthetics, instead their trees are adorned with ornaments of the past—they tell the story of their fondest memories and of the people whom they love the most. Over time, some ornaments that once brought joy now bring sadness—because of the passage of time, some ornaments now might represent a failed relationship instead of a thriving one, they may now represent death of a loved one, a place that no longer exists—but instead of throwing them away or keeping them in the box, they also get put on the tree. They get put on the tree that has branches strong enough to withstand mighty winds, branches strong enough to hold the weight of the heaviest snow—they get put on branches strong enough to hold the heaviest of all life can and will bring.
“Don’t be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…” This night we remember that God loved us so much so that God came into our earthly, messy world in the form of a baby. To experience love from other caring humans who will raise him to be strong—strong enough to love the way he had been loved, and strong enough to hold each of us, just as the tree branches hold the snow and the ornaments.
The good news of this night is that no matter how much snow falls from the sky, no matter the weight of the emotional pain we bear, no matter how dark and lonely times seem to be—God’s evergreen, ever-living, everlasting life endures and God’s outstretched arms have been and always will be strong enough to hold you. This is possible not just because God is almighty and powerful, but because God has experienced the same burdens that this fragile human life brings. Tonight, we affirm God as Emmanuel, God with us, in the gift of God in human form, Jesus. Because of this gift, we can firmly believe that God knows us…God cares for us…and most importantly, God loves us.