The ADVENTure of Christmas (2 of 12)

posted by Jeffrey on Friday, December 02, 2005 at 8:23 AM


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Ok, let me get this one out of the way. This year has brought about the fiercest debate (and a rather silly one, imo) over the terminology of the Christmas tree that I have ever seen. So let's discover the origin of this tradition.

"Since ancient times evergreen plants and trees have had special meaning during bitter winter months--and for obvious reasons. Many ancient people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick and weak. They celebrated the winter solstice (December 21st or 22nd) because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well. Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun god was strong and summer would return.

The ancient Egyptians worshipped a god called Ra, who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a blazing disk in his crown. At the solstice, when Ra began to recover from the illness, the Egyptians filled their homes with green palm brushes which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death (hmm--that palm brush symbolism ring any bells?)."(1) [Parenthetical comments mine]

Nearly identical practices and beliefs can also be found in early Roman, Celtic, and Viking traditions.

The story of how the evergreen tree came to be associated with the Catholic celebration of Christ mass (Christmas) is said to have begun in the seventeenth century with a young English missionary named Winfirid (later St. Boniface). Legend has it that he was so outraged one night as he happened upon a group of men offering a sacrifice to an oak tree that he felled the mighty oak with one swing of his axe. According to the tale, a fir tree eventually grew from the stump. The missionary proclaimed that the tiny new tree represented Jesus' victory over death on the cross and the eternal life made available to us through Him. It is said that St. Boniface used the tree as an object lesson, saying that the three points of the tree represent the three persons of the Holy Trinity--God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The origination of the evergreen tree being brought indoors and adorned with twinkling lights begins fairly earlier, in the 16th century, with Martin Luther. While walking through the forest one December night, as the stars seemed to show unusually bright, He passed under some evergreens and the stars appeared to dance in the trees all around him.

The story goes on to say that this beautiful experience of God's creation moved him to such intimate worship that he chopped down a fir tree, set it up in his living room, and wired the branches with candles in an attempt to recreate the look of the stars twinkling in the branches. He smiled as his children's eyes were suddenly opened to the meaning of Psalm 19:1: "The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display His marvelous craftsmanship." (2)

So as you carefully select the perfect location for your Christmas tree, string its branches with lights (if it doesn't already have them), and place on it meaningful ornaments with delicate precision, know that you are partaking in an act of worship to Jesus as we have woven these two traditions into one tapestry of praise to our Lord Jesus who has overcome fear and death, and shines as a blinding light in the deepest regions of our world and of our lives.

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