O Christmas Tree- Meditation

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,
How lovely are thy branches!
Not only green when summer’s here
But in the coldest time of year.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are thy branches!

 Do you have your Christmas tree up yet? We don’t but we’ve got a goal, to have it up by the latest, Christmas day! Hopefully…

But just in case, every year, keeping in our family tradition, we make it a point to take the family to see some Christmas tree displays. Our tradition comes from when I was a kid, Mom and Grandma used to take me to the old Quaker Square in Akron to see all of the holiday displays and rows up on rows upon rows of Christmas trees. There was always row after row of differently themed Christmas trees, brightly colored lights, white lights, all green lights, red lights, cartoon themed, Americana themed, “white Christmas” themed, Grinch who stole Christmas themed and my favorite, a Charlie Brown Christmas themed.

I still love looking at all of the colorfully decorated Christmas trees because it always brings a smile to my face. This might just be me, but when I see those Christmas trees I’ve always wondered what they are pointing to. Every time I see one, I always get this thought: the Christmas tree looks like a giant arrow, with the base at the bottom and the full triangle shape pointing up to the sky. Or sometimes, depending on the shape of the tree, it reminds me of a hand with the index finger extended pointing out. But what is the tree pointing to?

Look up. What do you see there on top of the tree? Sometimes it’s angel singing out the praises of the newborn king. Sometimes it’s a star, reminding us of the star above the newborn baby’s crib that Christmas morn. Other times, on more simpler trees, there is nothing on top at all, but the tree still points us upwards, reminding us of heaven and the good Lord who gave us peace and good will in the baby Jesus. The Christmas tree is always pointing away from itself to the greater reality that the tree is reminding us of. Its like the tree is saying, “when you see me, don’t linger on me too long, I’m not the main attraction. Look up to where I’m pointing and see what the fuss is all about!”

That’s the story of John the Baptist in the Gospel reading today, John 1:6-8, 19-23.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light/ And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight  the way of the Lord.’

I think we could say, quite honestly, that John the Baptist was all decorated for Christmas to get people’s attention. We are told of him that he was this prophet living in the desert, eating locust and honey (which is a meal still eaten in some parts of that region by the poor), he wore camel skin and gives the impression of one of those “man in the wild” kind of guys, all crazy long hair and thick matted beard. When people saw him, he caught their attention! He was a miracle baby as well, born to the temple priest Zachary and his barren wife, Elizabeth, both of whom were very old and Elizabeth well beyond childbearing age. He lived as a hermit in the desert of Judea until about A.D. 27, at that time, literally called out of the desert for this purpose alone, God planted him on the banks of the Jordan River to preach to the masses, to call them to repentance and to baptize them. John drew huge crowds that came to hear this wild man prophet in the desert preaching, and teaching and to be baptized him by the score.

He was such a brightly lit attraction, attracting so many people, that all of the religious leaders took notice and were jealous of the attention he was receiving, sending out their people to see what was going on. John grew such large audiences that eventually King Herod himself was afraid of his political influence and would eventually have him beheaded. John got noticed and can you imagine the kind of influence a person like that could have, in whatever arena they wanted to be in, politics, government, religion.

But noticed John’s repeated argument, when you see me, don’t linger on me too long, I’m not the main attraction. Look to where I’m pointing and see what the fuss is all about!” He kept telling the people, “I’m not the main event, I’m not that important, I’m certainly not the Messiah, or Elijah from of old, or anyone else that important, I’m just here to point the way to the one who is coming. And all of these decorations I have, why I’m drawing so many people? That’s not because I’m the important one, it’s only so people can get ready for and look to the one who matters, the Savior.”

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Thy candles shine out brightly!
Each bough doth hold its tiny light,
That makes each toy to sparkle bright.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Thy candles shine out brightly!

Listen again to these words from the Old Testament reading, Isaiah 61:10.

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” 

This is such a wonderful picture the prophet gives us about how the Lord God adorns his people with beauty and righteousness when he saves his people from their sins.

Or think of it this way, more seasonally. In Jesus, we are called trees of righteousness. God has planted us in the waters of Holy Baptism that make us alive in Him. God stretches each of our branches to reach into the lives of the community and the people around us. God places his adornments inside of us: the pages of His Word on each branch, the red and white adornments of His blood and body on each bough. God gives to us good works to do so His light can shine from us in the night. All of this, in its way, to catch people’s attention, so they might look and see what all of the light and all of the joy is all about. But just like all of those faithful trees in God’s field who have gone before us, we mustn’t let the attention remain on us, not ever. We must say, when you see me, don’t linger on me too long, I’m not the main attraction. Look up to where I’m pointing and see what the fuss is all about!”

Just like another tree that lifted up our Lord upon its branches in a cruel embrace. But even that tree that we see everywhere: on the front of churches, on chains, on tombstones, painted on canvas and brick, has the same message. “When you see me, don’t linger on me too long, I’m not the main attraction. Look up and see where I’m pointing, too, and see the good God has done for you in Jesus.”

This Christmas, God has made us to be good Christmas trees, shining with the light of God’s love and adorned with the good works He has given us to do, but all done, not so they will see us, rather so they will see the one who we are pointing too, the child born in the manger, our savior Jesus Christ.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How sturdy God hath made thee!
Thou bidds’t us all place faithfully
Our trust in God, unchangingly!
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How sturdy God hath made thee!

(lyrics- O Christmas Tree- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Tannenbaum)
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