It’s that time of year again when many of our homes and even some of our churches are decked out with lights, garland, ribbons, and—of course—Christmas trees. While originally borrowed from pagan traditions, the Christmas tree has become a central component of many of our Christian Advent traditions. As I think about setting up the Christmas tree in my own home, a few other tree-related thoughts come to mind.
The first was sparked more than five years ago when Ron Vanderwell penned a devotional entitled “Sustaining Faith” for the Back to God Ministries International publication Today. Based on Psalm 1, the devotional focused on the image of a tree planted by streams of water. The third verse of that psalm explains that a person who loves God’s law “is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”
Vanderwell closed his reflection with these words: “Psalm 1 assures us God wants to sustain us in a way like that, if we only will let him. We can call this sustaining faith, and it’s here that we really begin to see God’s hand in our lives.”
As we journey through Advent all the way to Christmas morning, we celebrate a God whose love became incarnate in a manger 2,000 years ago and who continues to sustain us today as a stream sustains a tree. That is something beautiful to remember.
My second tree-related thought has to do with Jesus’ family tree as described in the first chapter of Matthew. Just as the psalmist’s tree reminds us of God’s sustaining hand, this family tree describing Jesus’ lineage reminds us of our covenant-keeping God who made a promise to Adam and to Abraham and who fulfilled that promise in a stable in Bethlehem.
Third, as our ears ring with angels proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14), we also know that the story that started in Bethlehem leads to a tree—the cross—upon which Jesus was crucified. This tree is a striking contrast to the manger scenes we love, but is part of our promise-keeping God’s plan for us. Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. He also rose again and ascended into heaven.
Last, I think of Romans 11, where we encounter the image of an olive tree. As Christians, we are all branches grafted onto the tree of Christ. Again, it’s part of God’s plan for us, and the joy of being grafted into the olive tree is that now we will bear fruit.
During this time of Advent waiting, Christmas trees, and celebrations, let us keep rejoicing, knowing that God’s plan, made possible through his Son, gives us life everlasting—a promise that sustains us each day and every day, now and through eternity.