The origin of Christmas Trees (Advent 2B)

berry-1867135_640A few days ago I received a phone call from my new parish priest.  He knows I am coming and so he rang to tell me that he is preparing for my arrival by preparing my new office.  Currently the room is dedicated for another purpose, disorganised and full of dust.  He rang to tell me that this weekend the parish is having a working bee to prepare a place for me so I can work: they are going to clean out the room, wipe over everything with a wet cloth, and put in new cupboards, so that I have a place in the heart of the parish to work.

Today God asks us if we want to do the same thing for him.  Its very interesting you know: because, unlike some parts of our society, God loves us – and he respects our freedom.  So he simply presents himself as he is, respectfully asking if we want eternal happiness – that is, if we want Him. And if so to take time now to prepare his room – the private room of our heart, so that when he arrives in the very special grace unique only to Christmas, he will see that he is welcome and so come and make his home and work within us.  This was the role of John the Baptist, and this is the role of Advent: to repent of all the rebellion in our heart against his teachings, especially the hard and controversial ones, of our selfishness and lack of love and especially our pride, and to be humble enough to embrace the sacraments and welcome within them the little poor baby whom the elite reject and want to silence and kill: the Baby Jesus who was honoured by those on the edge of Jewish society – the shepherds and the three coloured Wise Men from far away.

What is interesting is that this is the origin and the whole point of Christmas trees.  I don’t know if you know – but by putting up a Christmas tree you are setting up a very ancient and profound religious symbol.  The Christmas tree finds its origin in the missionary work of St Boniface.  Before Germany was Christian, he came to a village where people annually sacrificed a child to a huge tree dedicated to the God Thor.  Risking his own life, Boniface chopped it down.  He then pointed to a tiny little fir tree just behind it, saying “This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace… It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.” (Catholic Answers).  Christians have been putting up Christmas trees ever since.  As Pope John Paul II reminds us, Beside the crib the Christmas tree, with its twinkling lights, reminds us that with the birth of Jesus the tree of life has blossomed anew in the desert of humanity.  (Blessing Urbi et Orbi 2003)

This is why we have a rite in the liturgy of the Roman Rite for the blessing of Christmas trees – which you can google and pray for your own tree and home.  And so let us pray:  Holy Lord, we come with joy to celebrate the birth of your Son, who rescued us from the darkness of sin by making the cross a tree of life and light.  May this tree, arrayed in splendor, remind us of the life-giving cross of Christ, that we may always rejoice in the new life that shines in our hearts.  We ask this through Christ our Lord. R. Amen.  (Book of Blessings no. 996)