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Principal's Pen: December 2022

Principal's Pen: December 2022

The history of the Christmas tree has been evolving for thousands of years. From its use in ancient pagan solstice rituals to its presence in Protestant homes in 16th century Germany to its widespread appearance in the modern secular world, the Christmas tree has seen its importance as the primary symbol of Christmas grow. In the United States, both Christians and non-Christians have Christmas trees in their homes. And everyone knows if you're going to celebrate Christmas, you must have a tree!

And while an evergreen tree is celebrated as a universal symbol of Christmas, Christians know the sacredness of the holiday lies not in a decorated tree but in the baby in the manger – Immanuel, "God with Us." Indeed, Christ, not the tree, must be kept in Christmas. But there are, in fact, "sacred trees" in the Holy Scriptures that are part of God's history of redemption. And these trees tell a story related to the baby in the manger that the Christmas tree does not.   

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

The first sacred tree in Scripture is the "tree of knowledge" (Gen 2:9, 17). This tree stood in the middle of the Garden of Eden alongside the "tree of life." And as most know, God prohibited Adam and Eve from eating fruit from its branches. But the first humans disobeyed the divine command and ate the forbidden fruit. And instantly, sin and death came into the world and have been a part of our existence ever since.

The Tree of Life

The second sacred tree of Scripture is the "tree of life," which is mentioned in both Genesis (2:8-17; 3:22-24) and Revelation (2:7; 22:2, 14, 19). This tree would give immortality to whoever ate its fruit, which is why God removed it from the Garden after Adam and Eve sinned and chose to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. But in Revelation, the tree of life returns to the scene and is a picture of endless peace and eternal life in the new creation with God.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him (Revelation 22:1–3, ESV).

What happened? How was the curse of sin and death removed and humanity restored to the garden setting with God and His tree of life? For that answer, we must look to two more sacred trees found in the pages of the Bible between Genesis and Revelation.

The Oak of Moreh

The first is the oak of Moreh in the town of Shechem, which is initially found in Genesis 12:6. It was next to this tree that God physically appeared to Abram to affirm the covenant to use him and his descendants to draw the disinherited nations of the earth back into the family of God by faith. God told Abram:

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (12:1-3).

And when God appeared to Abram next to the oak tree, he furthered the promise by adding the land of Canaan to His blessing: "to your offspring I will give this land." Indeed, we can understand why Abram built an altar next to the tree where God once stood.

Hundreds of years later, after the return of the Israelites to the Promised Land, we can understand why Joshua set up the Tabernacle, the dwelling place of God, next to that very same tree (Joshua 24:24–26). The tree was a sacred marker of God's faithfulness in birthing the nation of Israel and the realization of His promise to give them the Promised Land. But a question yet remained: how would God fulfill the other part of the promise He affirmed while standing next to the tree. How would God make good on His promise to bless all the families of the earth? The answer to that question is seen in the most sacred tree in all of Scripture, the Cross.

The Cross

In the book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

When people trust in Jesus' sacrifice on the tree where He atoned for the world's sins by becoming a curse in their place, they are welcomed into the family of God and given access to the tree of life. Or as John, the revelator, said, "that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city" (Rev 22:14). What a paradox! The nations of the earth were blessed by the incarnated life, death (on a tree), and physical resurrection of the very one who promised to bless the nations. God became a man and did it Himself!

So, when we gather around our Christmas trees this year, let us remember to pray and sing and tell those who have yet to believe, of the sacred tree(s) of the Bible and how the God of the universe emptied Himself to become one of us and do what we could not do for ourselves. For it was His death on a sacred tree that brought peace with God and eternal life.

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4–5 ESV).

 

Merry Christmas!

 

Nicholas Harris

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