Sermon title:

Can Christmas Trees Honor God?

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, December 6, 2020

 

 

This is the second Sunday of Advent.

 

So, we’ve already lit the second candle.

on our Advent wreath.

 

We miss being able to do that in person at church,

but the virtual candles we used

were the next best thing.

 

We also miss the Christmas tree

downstairs in the Fellowship Hall.

 

It’s always beautifully decorated for Christmas.

 

And, rather than being taken down after the holiday,

it gets re-purposed in February

as a St. Valentine’s Day tree,

again in March as a St. Patrick’s Day tree,

and so on—

right through November,

when it becomes a Thanksgiving Day tree-

and then reverts back, right after that,

to being a traditional Christmas tree.

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The Christmas tree tradition goes quite a way’s back.

 

Legend has it that an early Christian

missionary to Germany by the name of Boniface,

confronted pagan Germanic tribes

who worshiped an old oak tree.

 

The story goes that Boniface chopped down the oak

and replaced it with a fir tree

that he told them represented Christ.

 

He told them Christ was like

an evergreen never losing its leaves,

even in winter,

so the evergreen tree would be a reminder

of God’s everlasting love.

 

Another legend also has it that Martin Luther,

the Father of the Protestant Reformation,

was the first one to light a candle

atop a Christmas tree—around 500 years ago.

 

The story goes that Luther was walking home at night

through the German woods around Christmas time,

and that he was awestruck

by the starlight shining through the fir trees.

 

Close to home he cut one down, brought it indoors,

and put small candles on it

to share that starlight experience with his family.

 

And he told his children of the Christmas Star

that led the Wise Men to baby Jesus.

 

Before a century had gone by,

German families had established a tradition

of decorating trees in their homes

with colored paper, gold foil,

and other things.

 

The British frowned on Christmas trees,

but Queen Victoria

married Prince Albert from Germany,

and he brought the idea of a Christmas tree

to the royal palace in London.

 

British attitudes changed in the 1840’s

when Victoria and Albert

were pictured in periodicals of the day

with their children gathered around

a decorated tree in the palace.

 

It is reported that 35-million Christmas trees

are now sold annually in the United States alone.

 

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The Christmas tree can be used to glorify Jesus,

but it can also be misused.

 

Unbelievers use the tree, along with Santa Claus,

flying reindeer, Frosty the Snowman,

and secular traditions

to celebrate an “Xmas” holiday of good cheer

without giving any thought to God,

and without naming Christ.

 

Sometimes, it’s hard to see

which Christmas is being celebrated—

the Christian or the secular holiday.

 

But what happens in Japan demonstrates

that there really are two different holiday celebrations—

one Christian and one secular.

 

In Japan, where only 1% of the population is Christian,

but where Christmas is publicly celebrated,

it’s clearly a secular celebration.

 

In Tokyo, Christmas trees and festive lights

adorn homes, stores and public places,

but Jesus isn’t mentioned at all.

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Here in America, though, even in secular situations,

it’s hard to celebrate Christmas

without some reminder of Jesus entering in.

 

On the radio and even in stores, malls

and shopping centers,

you can catch the sound of a Christmas carol

with the Gospel message woven through it.

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Some people object to the Christmas tree

because of supposed pagan connections

to tree worship.

 

But, it’s hard to imagine

that someone as zealous for the Gospel as Martin Luther

would import a pagan symbol into the Church.

 

The fact is that pagans worshipped, not only

certain trees, logs, and idols carved from wood,

but also rocks and mountains

and birds and animals.

 

It’s hard to find any part of creation

that the pagans didn’t worship.

 

Romans 1:22 says,

22Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. 23And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.

 

Some people may shun the Christmas tree

because there were pagans who worshiped trees,

but God doesn’t hesitate

to use trees to picture and illustrate

eternal truths.

 

I haven’t counted all the references myself,

but there are some Bible researchers who’ve concluded

that the Bible speaks of trees

more than any other living thing

in all creation.

 

In the very First Chapter of the very 1st book of the Bible,

we read at Genesis 1:11,

11 God said, “Let the earth yield grass, herbs yielding seeds, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with their seeds in it, on the earth;” and it was so. 12 The earth yielded grass, herbs yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with their seeds in it, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.

 

And in the very last book of the Bible,

close to the last verse,

we read at Revelation 22:19

If anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, may God take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book.

 

And, sandwiched between those two passages

at the beginning and at the end of our Bibles,

there are countless mentions of trees—

trees of all sorts.

 

The Christmas tree isn’t mentioned in the Bible, of course,

because, as we mentioned a moment ago,

the tradition of including a tree

in the celebration of Christ’s birth

didn’t begin until much later.

 

Moreover, the type of tree

we associate with Christmas—

the evergreen fir tree with a triangular shape

that tapers off toward the top

and points heavenward—

that variety of tree isn’t native to the Holy Land.

 

If you visit a tree farm growing Christmas trees

in modern Israel today, what you find growing there

are Arizona cypresses, transplanted from America.

 

So, the Bible doesn’t talk about Christmas trees

in the modern sense of the word,

but Scripture does use trees

to illustrate the true Christmas message:

that our Lord Jesus is

“the Way and the Truth and the Life.”

 

And the Bible often compares Christ to

a branch, a tree, an olive tree, or a grape vine.

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Eternal life for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden

was related to the Tree of Life.

 

Their sin led to their expulsion from the Garden,

so they were cut off from the Tree of Life.

 

In Genesis 3:22, God says about Adam, after Adam sinned,

He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

 

By disobeying God,

Adam and Eve lost their access to the Tree of Life,

so they would not live forever,

but instead would grow old and die.

 

It was in that lost condition

that they began to produce offspring,

so their offspring inherited both sin and death

from their first parents.

 

Romans 5:12 explains

sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin; and so death passed to all men, because all sinned.

 

So, in the very beginning of the Bible,

mankind fell into sin and death—

separated from the Tree of Life—

but at the very end of the Bible

we find access to the Tree of Life restored.

 

Revelation Chapter 22, the last chapter in our Bibles,

begins with God’s angel showing the writer John

water of life and the Tree of Life.

It says,

1 He showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 in the middle of its street. On this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 There will be no curse any more.

 

So here, at the end of the Bible,

the nations of mankind descended from Adam

regain what Adam lost

when he was expelled from the Garden.

 

When he was expelled from the Garden of Eden,

Adam was cut off from the Tree of Life.

 

But, in the end, Adam’s descendants

are healed from the curse of death

by regaining access to the Tree of Life.

 

How did that happen?

 

That’s the story of Jesus.

 

When we turn to Christ for salvation

he becomes like the Tree of Life for us.

 

How appropriate that this

should be called to mind by a Christmas tree

as we remember and celebrate Jesus’ birth!

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Christ died on the cross for us

to save us from our sins and give us eternal life.

 

And that wooden cross was cut from a tree.

 

So, at Acts 5:29 Peter and the other Apostles

told the religious leaders of the Jews,  

“We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you killed, hanging him on a tree.”

 

Jesus was nailed up to hang on a tree—

the cross of Calvary.

 

How fitting it is, then for us to use a Christmas tree

when celebrating his birth!

 

Christ took away our sins,

by taking the curse of our sins upon himself.

 

Galatians 3:13 says,

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us. For it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree,” [Deuteronomy 21:23]

 

Yes, he was hanged on a tree—that wooden cross.

 

That cross became like the Tree of Life for us.

 

Again, how fitting it is, to use a Christmas tree

when celebrating his birth!

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And, besides the cross being referred to as “a tree,”

Jesus himself is pictured as a tree

in a number of prophecies and illustrations.

 

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke

both list in detail Jesus’ family tree—his genealogy—

to show that his family line from King David

put him legally in line to be King of Israel.

 

Luke Chapter 2 tells us,

4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to David’s city, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David; 5 to enroll himself with Mary,

 

That family line of King David

sprang like a tree branch

from David’s father Jesse.

 

So, the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah

describe the coming Messiah or Christ

as a branch or tree growing from Jesse’s root.

 

Isaiah Chapter 11 says,

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

from his roots a Branch will bear fruit....

10 And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; For the Gentiles shall seek Him.

 

So, God inspired Isaiah to describe

the promised Messiah

using the illustration of a tree root, a tree stump,

and a tree branch.

 

Again, how fitting it is, for us to use a Christmas tree

when celebrating his birth!

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God’s prophet Jeremiah

continued that same tree-branch illustration

when he foretold the coming of Christ

like this at Jeremiah 23:5,

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.

 

And again at Jeremiah 33:15,

In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land.

 

Jesus is that “righteous Branch.”

 

So, since the Scriptures

repeatedly picture him as a tree branch,

how appropriate it is,

for us to use a Christmas tree

when celebrating his birth!

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In Chapter 14 of the Prophet Hosea, the Lord says,

8 "I am to thee an evergreen tree of life and protection, and from me is thy fruit found."

 

The Lord describes himself

as an evergreen tree of life—

so a Christmas tree would fit right in

with that language inspired by the Holy Spirit.

 

The fact that some pagans may have worshiped trees

along with all their other false gods—

that can not take away from

the true God using trees in the Bible

and a Christmas tree in your living room

as reminders of Christ.

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Jesus even refers to himself as a tree—in this case

the powerful trunk of a mighty grape vine

with us believers like branches of that vine.

 

The 15th Chapter of the Gospel of John begins

with Jesus saying,

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the farmer.

...

4 Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch can’t bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you, unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine. You are the branches.

 

What a privilege we have,

for him to speak of us

as branches growing from him

and drawing our nourishment from him.

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So, both the Old and New Testaments

use trees in many illustrations

to show our relationship with God.

The variety of tree doesn’t seem to matter,

since the inspired language of the Scriptures

includes the evergreen, the olive tree

and the grape vine.

 

It fits the same pattern, when we decorate

for our Christmas tree

an evergreen fir, pine or spruce.

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The Apostle Paul goes back to the olive tree

in Romans Chapter 11,

speaking of God’s chosen people Israel

as a cultivated olive tree

and Gentile believers from other nations

as branches taken from a wild olive tree

and grafted into the cultivated tree.

 

Beginning in Romans 11:16 he says,

...If the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 . . . some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them, and became partaker with them of the root and of the richness of the olive tree;

 

At Christmas time, we celebrate not only Christ’s birth

but also our personal relationship with him—

that we all partake of

“the root and of the richness of the olive tree”

which is Christ.

 

Pagans can do what they want with their trees,

but they can’t take away from the holiness

of Christmas trees that we dedicate

to Jesus, as reminders of his holy birth.

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Back in the Garden of Eden,

when Adam and Eve chose to decide for themselves

what is good and evil,

instead of obeying God,

they partook of that

“tree of the knowledge of good and evil”

as an act of rebellion against God.

 

When we embrace the baby of Bethlehem

to follow Christ Jesus as our Lord and Savior

we regain

the eternal life that Adam and Eve forfeited.

 

And in Revelation, mankind redeemed by Christ

once again has access to the Tree of Life.

 

We keep the commands of Christ.

 

We are grafted into that nourishing tree trunk

represented by the child born on Christmas day.

 

We become branches of that symbolic olive tree

cultivated by God the Father.

 

Revelation 22:14 then says of us,

14 Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life.

 

The Christmas tree that we decorate royally

reminds us of our life-giving Savior

who gives us eternal life.