First Congregational Church
December 6, 2020
Communion & Second Sunday in Advent
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Where do young trees go to become Christmas trees? Elementree school. What did Luke Skywalker say after he planted a Christmas tree farm? May the forest be with you. Why was the Christmas tree’s friend so sad? It was a weeping willow.
Last month, while the Worship Committee looked ahead into the foggy, very uncertain future, we decided to call this season of Advent 2020 The Year of the Tree. We sent out devotional booklets, to those we could think of, highlighting the Jesse Tree, including the kids’ own version, that refer’s to Jesus’ family tree.
The Jesse Tree is a decorative tree used during Advent to retell the stories of the whole Bible that lead to Jesus’ birth, and most often, there are symbols - the decorations - that symbolize each story. Last week we decorated the Church - well, as best we could - with greens - branches from evergreen trees of different types to help us get into this tree mindset.
It may seem an odd thing to celebrate Advent with a tree theme. And yet, as 21st century Christians, we see the link between the cradle and the cross - the beginning and the end, not only of Jesus’ life, but of all creation. Which is where those scripture verses come in.
After God created the heavens and earth, separated the light from the darkness and the sky from land, God went on to create vegetation: “seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it,” as it says in Genesis 1:9. For whatever reason, my heart was drawn to the phrase “tree of life” this week, so I looked it up, and well, you can see for yourself.
1. Genesis 2:9
The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
2. Genesis 3:24
After 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.
Not only was/is the Tree of Life worthy and precious enough to call angels to guard it, the term is used to describe the grounded blessing of wisdom in the book of Proverbs.
3. Proverbs 3:18
She, being wisdom, is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed.
4. Proverbs 11:30
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives.
5. Proverbs 13:12
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
6. Proverbs 15:4
The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.
Out of those passages of plenty and abundance and healing - far greater than we would normally allot - we have this last one from the book of Revelation, pointing to the promise and healing and life of plenty in the world to come. (And I’ll give you the first verse as well - for context.)
7. Revelation 22:2
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Apparently there was a monk in the 7th century that traveled from England to Germany, who used the triangular shape of a fir tree to teach people about the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is tell that Martin Luther put a lighted candles on top of a Christmas tree to show his children how the star of Bethlehem twinkled through the dark night.
The thing that is interesting - maybe a good many of us have overlooked - is that beneath the decorations, lights and even shape of any Christmas tree is the actual trunk - the wood part - of the tree - even if symbolized in metal or plastic. It was really Queen Victoria who brought the Christmas tree from an obscure custom to one of the most popular and recognizable, if under appreciated, symbols of Christmas - or Advent.
I don’t know the origin of it, but I came across a story about a small cottage on the border of a forest where a poor laborer, his wife and two children kept themselves just barely afloat by cutting trees.
The boy's name was Valentine, and the girl was called Mary. They were well-behaved, good children, and a great comfort to their parents. One winter evening, this happy little family was sitting quietly around the fireplace, the snow and the wind raging outside, eating their supper of dry bread, when a gentle tap was heard on the window, and a childish voice cried out: "Oh, let me in, pray! I am a poor little child, with nothing to eat, and no home to go to, and I shall die of cold and hunger unless you let me in."
Valentine and Mary jumped up from the table and ran to open the door, saying: "Come in, poor little child! We don’t have much to give you, but whatever we have we will share with you."
The stranger-child came in and warmed his frozen hands and feet at the fire, and the children gave him the best they had to eat, saying: "You must be tired, too, poor child! Lie down on our bed; we can sleep on the bench for one night.” Then said the little stranger-child: "Thank God for all your kindness to me!"
So they took their little guest into their bedroom, got him on the bed, covered up, and said to each other: "How thankful we ought to be! We have warm rooms and a cozy bed, while this poor child has only heaven for his roof and the cold earth for his bed."
When their father and mother went to bed, Mary and Valentine lay quite contentedly on the bench near the fire, saying, before they fell asleep: "The stranger-child will be so happy tonight in his warm bed!"
These kind children had not slept many hours before Mary awoke and softly whispered to her brother: "Valentine, wake up and listen to the music under the window.” Valentine rubbed his eyes and listened. It was sweet music indeed, and sounded like beautiful voices singing to the tones of a harp:
"O holy Child, we greet thee! bringing
Sweet strains of harp to aid our singing.
"Thou, holy Child, in peace art sleeping,
While we our watch without are keeping.
"Blest be the house wherein thou liest.
Happiest on earth, to heaven the highest."
The children listened, while a solemn joy filled their hearts; then they stepped softly to the window to see who might be out there.
In the east was a streak of rosy dawn, and in its light they saw a group of children standing in front of the house, wearing silver clothes, holding golden harps. Amazed at this sight, the children were still gazing out of the window, when a light tap caused them to turn round. There stood the stranger-child before them - in a golden outfit, with a circle of light round his curly hair. "I am the little Christ-child," he said, "who wanders through the world bringing peace and happiness to good children. You took me in and cared for me when you thought me a poor child, and now you shall have my blessing for what you have done."
A fir tree grew near the house; and from this he broke a twig, which he planted in the ground, saying: "This twig shall become a tree, and shall bring forth fruit year after year for you."
No sooner had he done this than he vanished, and with him the little choir of angels. But the fir-branch grew and became a Christmas tree, and on its branches hung golden apples and silver nuts every Christmas-time.
It’s a far-fetched tale, but it reminds us that in this time of preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ on Christmas, he might already be at your door, in your house, in the disguise of someone who doesn’t look like you. He may be in the cup and bread on your dining table or kitchen counter.
Theoretically, we are reminded three times a day of Christ and his sacrifice for our eternal life of wholeness. On his last night, when he took the bread and gave thanks for it, he broke and gave it to the disciples, telling them to eat, that it was his body for them. And when he took the cup and gave thanks for it, he gave it to the disciples and told them to drink, because it was his blood shed for the forgiveness of sin.
Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper This is an open Table. All are welcome.
The great Paul reminds us that every time we take of the bread and the cup, we proclaim Christ’s death on a tree and resurrection to new life, which will be for all those who follow Christ. May Paul’s words be truer in each day we live. So let us pray.
Holy, Eternal God, we thank you for giving us ways to wrap our heads around your love for us - be it in Christmas trees or cup or bread or angels in our midst. Help us to keep our eyes on you - from the cradle to the cross - that we not become stuck in details that wear us out. Help us to cultivate the peace that you have for all your children, if we but ask. So we ask, generous God, for the peace that not only passes all understanding, but can bring new life to a world in need of you. For all your blessings, and most especially for Emmanuel, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.