O Christmas Tree

It’s time for bed after a long day in the middle of an unusually busy December. I flip off the lights in the living room but sit down on the couch before unplugging the Christmas tree. The room glows in quietness, the shadows painting pine branch patterns on the walls.

Isn’t it odd, I think, that every Christmas we cut down pine trees and bring them into our living rooms for a few weeks?

I know there’s a long history of this interesting tradition. But my mind skips ahead to the significance of trees, and suddenly the tree as a symbol of  Christmas makes sense. The truth is, I’ve been contemplating trees throughout 2020 and 21, partly because the Bible is filled with trees—both literal and symbolic.

The story of humanity in the Bible begins with the first humans being sent away from the Tree of Life because of their disobedience to God. The story of humanity ends with the vision of a new earth that has the same Tree of Life at its center, this time surrounded by redeemed humanity—those who have chosen to follow the Lord.

Woven throughout the Bible are stories of other trees: almond trees, fig trees, olive trees; “oaks of righteousness,” palm trees planted in the house of God, cypress trees displacing the thorns.

It was this symbolic picture of cypress trees in Isaiah 55:13 that began my 2021 meditation on trees. Cypress wood framed Noah’s ark, saving his family from being swept away in the flood. In this context, one Bible scholar and master gardener writes that the cypress represents “immortality through God’s divine will,” because Noah was righteous in God’s eyes. The thorns of sin and disobedience, she notes, can be replaced with the eternal life that comes from following God.

In my research of cypress trees last January, I happily discovered that some variety of cypress is growing at the edge of my courtyard, a tall, narrow evergreen that doesn’t change with the seasons.

It is everlasting life that I think of now looking at my evergreen Christmas tree. Life that came when the baby in a manger grew up and died on a tree. A tree stripped of its branches and shaped into a cross. A cross where He took on the punishment—the literal thorns—of my disobedience, and replaced it with the promise of new spiritual life and, one day, physical life.

Tonight, looking at the Christmas tree gives me perspective. Christmas shopping, finishing work projects before the holiday, wrapping gifts—everything suddenly shifts. The center of my life comes into focus again, and my heart is filled with joy.

For further contemplation:

Genesis 3:22-24

Revelation 22:1-5

Isaiah 55:1-13

1 Peter 2:24

Do You Want to Live Forever? by Dr. Carolyn Roth

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