Thursday, December 6, 2007

Is Christmas Christian? - Part IX

Continued from Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV,, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, and Part VIII.

Q. 10. But we know that Christians incorporated the use of evergreen trees in their celebrations in imitation of the pagans and their festivals. How do you answer this?

Answer. No, we don't know this. According to the Scriptures, God has made trees in such a way that they are richly symbolic. Woodrow summarizes the biblical data:
Inspired prophets often used the tree as a symbol of that which is good. A man who serves the Lord is "like a tree planted by the rivers of water (Psalm 1:3). The righteous flourish "like a palm tree" and grow "like a cedar in Lebanon" (Psalm 92:12). They are "trees of righteousness" (Isa. 61:3). Wisdom is "a tree of life" (Prov. 3:18). The blessing of long life is likened to a tree (Isa. 65:22). Those who overcome eat of "the tree of life" (Rev. 2:7). God's people are symbolized by an olive tree (Rom. 11:17). These and many more references show how trees can symbolize good things.
Christians, recognizing the beauty and significance of God's handiwork in trees, began to use them as decorations to symbolize the good gifts of God given through his Son to us at Christmas. We don't have to believe the various Christian legends attributing the first Christmas tree to this or that Christian saint. For example, the folktale that Martin Luther was the first to erect a Christmas tree with candles on it finds no support in the historical record.

Even so, the best evidence is that the Christmas tree is a direct descendent of the Paradise tree used in paradise and passion plays in the middle ages. From about the turn of the millennium (1000 AD) these "mystery plays" were put on all across Europe. One of the most popular was the Paradise Play, which was the story of Adam and Eve and the two trees. The play ended with the promise of the coming Savior (Gen. 3:15). These were very simple traveling drama troupes with one prop--a Paradise tree adorned with apples (and sometimes wafers). It symbolized both the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life (Christ himself).

But historians are agreed that the practice of erecting and decorating Christmas trees arose in Germany in the early 16th century, at the beginning of the Reformation. The first record we have of a decorated evergreen tree being used for Christmas is in 1521 in Germany. A resident of Strasbourg writes in 1605: "At Christmas they set up fir trees in the parlors at Strasbourg and hang thereon roses cut of many-colored paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil, sweets." Around 1700, Christmas trees were appearing in the new world as German immigrants came to America.

Pastor Richard P. Bucher's conclusions are surely correct:
. . . I think it is abundantly clear that Christians who erect Christmas trees are NOT worshiping them as gods or goddesses, nor are they loving them more than their Savior Jesus Christ. They are simply using the Christmas tree as a fun custom, one that can remind them of Jesus who is the branch of David (Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15), the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1). One that can remind them of the tree that led Adam and Eve to sin, but more importantly, the tree on which Christ Jesus died to make atonement for the sins of the whole world (Acts 5:30; Gal. 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24).

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