Writing in the December issue of Christianity Today, Timothy Larson reminds us that the origin of the Christmas tree was medieval European sacred plays performed at Christmastime. These plays told the biblical story of redemption and included a decorated evergreen tree which represented the Tree of Life. This became a symbol of the season.
I have read that it was the German reformer Martin Luther who added candles, their lights representing starlight shining through the branches of the Christmas tree. Most of us have memories of being charmed by the mystical beauty of the decorated and lighted Christmas trees of our childhood. Perhaps it is the desire to recover that innocent joy that prompts us to decorate the tree again each year at Christmas.
As you enjoy your Christmas tree, consider the fact that there is another tree. It has no ornaments. It has no lights. It is not a thing of beauty. Rather it is a stark testimony as to the reason why Christ came to earth. Older English translations of verses like Acts 5:30 tell us that our Lord died on that tree. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the the tree so that we might die to sins and live unto righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).
The latest edition of the New International Version translates “tree” as “cross.” The meaning is the same. The Greek word xulon in this context means a wooden pole, beam, cross, or gallows; a cruel means of execution. The cross upon which Jesus died may be thought of as God’s Christmas tree.
Romans 5:1-11 emphasizes the death Christ died for sinners. It repeats the words “death,” “died,” “die,” and “blood,” to explain why the Lord Jesus came to earth at Christmas. He died on that tree for a reason, in fact, for several reasons! Think about this as you gather with your family around your Christmas tree this year.
Here are some of the reasons Jesus died on the tree. These are like Christmas presents we receive when we trust in Christ as savior.
Peace with God. The Lord’s sacrificial death for us sinners makes possible a new relationship to God. Where once we were enemies (v. 10), now believers are at peace with God. “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).
Access. Jesus, through his death on the tree, ushers us into the very presence of God where we may enjoy fellowship with our heavenly Father every time we draw near to him in prayer.
Hope. Christian hope is confidence that the purposes of God will be fulfilled in our lives according to his word. This hope never disappoints. One of the themes of this Advent season is hope. “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (v. 3).
Love. God demonstrated his love for us in the death of Christ on the tree. He “poured out” his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to every believer.
Joy. Believers in Jesus may have joy because they are reconciled to God by the death of his Son. Indeed, they are justified though his blood and saved through his resurrection life. Joy to the world!
All of these gifts are real and attainable for those who will have faith in the Christ of Christmas. The manger is not the end of his story. In the words of Hannah King, “Jesus came down from heaven and then went further still: to the very depth of human shame and suffering. He did this for our sake.” He was born to die on the tree.
That tree, the cross, may be for you and me the Tree of Life.
Pastor Randy Faulkner