According to a Gallup poll from 2004, 96% of Americans celebrate Christmas. I imagine that every single one of them will have a Christmas Tree of some kind as part of their celebration.
Real or artificial? The great Christmas debate.
One of my earliest memories is as a very young boy going out on a rainy December day with my mom and dad and cutting down a Christmas tree in the mountains outside of San Francisco. I don’t remember much except that it was really muddy.
After we moved to Lake Villa, Illinois, I remember having an artificial tree. But I missed the real tree smell, going out and looking for the perfect tree with family, the whole experience. So when Nancy and I were married, we both committed to having a real tree each year – and so we have, for the last 18 Christmases.
We have our favorite kind of tree – a fir of some kind. Fraser, Noble, Douglas, that kind of thing.
That’s for us. You have different ideas. Some like Balsams, others like Scotch Pines.
Then there are those of you that prefer artificial trees. Cost, environmental impact and safety are very good concerns in the decision to choose an artificial tree.
I’m not here to argue one way or another about Christmas trees. I respect all decisions for the type of tree that you use.
But when it comes to Christmas trees, there are very many opinions, aren’t there. That’s apparent in A Charlie Brown Christmas.
A Christmas Tree sets the mood like nothing else does.
Charlie Brown knows that Christmas-time is a season of joy and happiness, but he doesn’t feel happy. He’s depressed. He doesn’t know why he doesn’t feel good at Christmas-time. He actually provides himself with the answer but that doesn’t help him much – it’s because he doesn’t understand what Christmas is all about.
So, he goes on a quest to find happiness. This leads him first to Lucy. Her advice is to “get involved.” So, he gets involved as the director of their Christmas play. That’s a good thing, because it puts Charlie Brown in the place he needs to be in order to understand what Christmas is all about, but we haven’t reached that point yet.
Charlie Brown’s direction style hasn’t accomplished what he’s looking for, so he goes in a slightly different direction. He tries to “set the mood.”
This, too, is powerful. Think about Christmas Eve worship services – the “mood” is important, isn’t it? The proper lighting, the proper music. Hollywood figured this out a long time ago – that lighting and soundtrack can make or break a movie.
Charlie Brown tried to set the proper mood with music, but that didn’t work. So he turns to that greatest of Christmas symbols in the modern era – the Christmas Tree.
Like most things in today’s world, opinions abound as to what kind of Christmas Tree Charlie Brown should get. You may have chuckled a little about a “shiny aluminum tree.” As it turns out, the first aluminum tree was introduced to the American market in 1958, only seven years before A Charlie Brown Christmas was first aired on TV and it was still quite popular.
The pressure is put on Charlie Brown to get the right tree, as the opinion is that only the right kind of tree will do to set the mood. This is typical human nature – that our opinion on things is most important. This leads us to what one person told me about two weeks ago – the “sin of expectation.” If our opinion is not considered and used, then things are ruined, that we are “doomed.” This, of course, is based squarely in our self-centeredness and not in being disciples of Jesus. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have your opinion or that your opinions don’t matter. What I am saying is our opinions – indeed our whole lives – should not be inward-looking but outward –leading. As Jesus put it, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind,” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19 & 22).
That certainly doesn’t fit the modern spirit of humans. My feelings, my opinion, my way, my thoughts, - that’s what’s important. The stark and unnerving mirror of God’s Law reveals this about ourselves and it isn’t comfortable. So we hide behind all our opinions, our ideas, and our feelings – especially at this time of year. That has led so many to feel just like Charlie Brown feels. There is a solution, and I’ll get to that in a moment.
The modern spirit of Christmas seems to be based on the type of tree one chooses.
Charlie Brown and Linus go out to get a tree. Linus warns Charlie Brown about following Lucy’s advice. Charlie Brown – for all his wishy-washyness – stands his ground and picks a real tree.
Charlie Brown recognizes that the tree “seems to need him.” And that’s interesting to me. The tree seems to call out to Charlie Brown. Perhaps it really has. God has often used parts of His creation to get the attention of people.
Charlie Brown doesn’t realize it but this tree chooses him because it moves Charlie Brown ever closer to the place where he will need to be to truly understand what Christmas is all about. When Charlie Brown gets to that place he will find the peace, happiness and joy that he – and us – are looking for at Christmas-time.
Charlie Brown says that he thinks the tree needs him. The reality is that we need the tree! And not the Christmas tree, but the Tree that the Christmas tree points to.
When you look at a Christmas tree, what do you see? I see a symbol of the Christmas season. But like most symbols this is a complex symbol. There’s more to it than initially meets the eye.
Some see a Christmas tree and see the mess of needles that will need to be cleaned up the rest of the year. Some see a frightful expense. Some are reminded of Christmases past. But consider this:
The Christmas tree is an evergreen. It is green and “fresh looking” year round. It isn’t a deciduous tree that loses its leaves and is bear every winter. This points us to the never-ending nature of God Himself, that Jesus is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
The shape of (most) Christmas trees is also a symbol. To me, it is an arrow shape, pointing up to heaven, pointing us to God, the source of all good and perfect gifts. Which is why we also put gifts under the tree each year, yes?
But the most powerful symbol that is the Christmas tree is that it is a tree. What’s the big deal about that?
23When they hurled their insults at [Jesus], he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:23-25) (emphasis added).
The ultimate symbol of the Christmas tree is that Jesus Christ was hung on a tree to die to save us from our sins. And that, my friends, is what Christmas is ultimately all about and where our true joy will be found. Not only at Christmas but throughout the year and throughout our lives!
©2008 True Men Ministries.