Summary: We are often referred to, in one way or another, as trees of God. This Christmas season, let’s make sure our tree bears the right ornaments.
ORNAMENTS ON A CHRISTIAN TREE
By Pastor Jim May
King Tut never saw a Christmas tree, but he would have understood the tradition.
The Egyptians were part of a long line of cultures that treasured and worshipped evergreens. When the winter solstice arrived, they brought green date palm leaves into their homes to symbolize life’s triumph over death.
The Romans celebrated the winter solstice with a festival called Saturnalia in honor of Saturnus, the god of agriculture. They decorated their houses with green leaves, plants and trees; set candles and torch lights all around; and they exchanged gifts. They gave coins for prosperity, pastries for happiness, and lamps to light one’s journey through life.
Centuries ago in Great Britain, forest dwelling priests called Druids used evergreens during mysterious winter solstice rituals. The Druids used holly and mistletoe as symbols of eternal life, and placed evergreen branches over doors to keep away evil spirits.
Late in the Middle Ages, the Germans and Scandinavians placed evergreen trees inside their homes or just outside their doors to show their hope in the forthcoming spring. Our modern Christmas tree evolved from these early traditions.
Legend has it that Martin Luther began the tradition of decorating trees to celebrate Christmas. One cold Christmas Eve, about the year 1500, he was walking through snow-covered woods and was struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreens. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, he set up a little fir tree indoors so he could share this story with his children. He decorated it with candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ’s birth.
The Christmas tree tradition most likely came to the United States with Hessian troops during the American Revolution, or with German immigrants to Pennsylvania and Ohio, adds Robson.
But the custom spread slowly. The Puritans banned Christmas in New England. Even as late as 1851, a Cleveland minister nearly lost his job because he allowed a tree in his church. Schools in Boston stayed open on Christmas Day through 1870, and sometimes expelled students who stayed home.
The Christmas tree market was born in 1851 when a farmer in the Catskill mountains named Mark Carr hauled two ox sleds of evergreens into New York City and sold them all for a tidy profit. The industry caught on then and by 1900, one in five American families had a Christmas tree. Just 20 years later you could find a Christmas tree in nearly every house in America.
So we have the Christmas tree of today. Today you would probably be called a Scrooge if you didn’t have a Christmas tree and there are few places indeed that won’t have one on display to celebrate the season. We have them in our homes, in our churches, in our places of business - just about everywhere.
A Christmas tree is a thing of beauty and carries such a wonderful message of light, life and wonder to the heart of the beholder.
Tonight I want to talk to you, not so much about Christmas trees with all of their ornaments, but about the Christian tree and the ornaments that should be seen on us.