It’s probably the biggest holiday of the year. As Christians we have to learn about the true meaning of Christmas. What do we mean when we say “Merry Christmas?” Or have we joined the majority and taken Christ out of the season that we claim is for him?
Today I want to talk about some of the symbols of Christmas starting with…
My mother-in-law goes through this ritual every year. She unpacks the Christmas tree from wherever it is that she keeps it (I’m never quite sure where it disappears to each new year). She unpacks boxes of decorations and unwinds the Christmas lights.
She checks each strand to see where lights have winked out (they never seem to last more than a season). Over several days she sets up the tree and takes her time adding decorations to the branches. Invariably she convinces my husband to purchase a new set of lights. At some point during the season they sit and watch the lights blink. That’s it.
It reminds them of a simpler time when life was less complicated. Yet every year I watch as they scale back on holiday festivities as they realize that the season is becoming less about Christ and more about spending money.
Today we’re pondering the question: how did the tradition of the Christmas tree originate?
It began with the winter solstice. Pagans believed that with the onset of winter, the sun god became sick and weak. However this day – the longest day of the year – was his turning point. Evergreen boughs were a symbol that the green trees would return again … it was a symbol of the triumph of life over death.
Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross. And they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it. And when they crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots for them to determine what every man should take.
Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. And the inscription of His accusation was written above:
THE KING OF THE JEWS.
With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.”
And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!”
Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”
Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him.
Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.”
And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last.
Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:21-39 NLT)
Have you met Jesus? The one who came and died on a tree like a common thief? The one whose blood covers all our sins?
While we’re celebrating his birth at Christmas are we thinking about his death and what it means for us?