There are many stories and folklore surrounding the history of Christmas trees. It is said that religious reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) while walking home from his church on Christmas Eve, paused to pray in the beauty of the winter’s moonlight. Looking skyward he was in awe of how the moonlight glistened on the snow dusted branches of the evergreen trees- like stars twinkling on the branch tips. Hoping to share with his congregation his inspired feeling, Luther brought an evergreen tree inside his church and adorned it with small candles. A reverent warming glow in the cold dimly lit sanctuary.
Another story fells of an English missionary who worked to convert the pagans of Germany. Cutting down the large oak tree they worshiped, he used the timbers to build up a church. It is said that from the stump of the tree, an evergreen sprig appeared. It grew year after year and endured the cold winters. The pagans converted believing this missionary had graces granted by God. This missionary was Saint Boniface, who became the patron saint of Germany. The story retold during the Christmas season, the Christmas tree is said to recall their conversion to Christianity.
Thinking back upon the Christmases of my childhood, a simpler sign was accomplished by the Christmas tree- the arrival of the holiday itself! The giant tree at Rockefeller Center or better yet- the search for the perfect Christmas tree my mother would take my sister and I on. We would spend literally hours regardless of the weather, as my mother drove from tree lot to tree lot searching for the perfect tree. More often than not, frustration and stress would overwhelm us, climaxing in my scream of: “Pick one! I want to go home!”
I am certain it is like this for most families. The search for the “perfect tree”. Only to get it home and discover- it is not “perfect”. We discover bare spots. There are broken branches. That perfect shape we envisioned on the tree lot, is now missing as we place it in the tree stand. The trunk seems twisted, not as straight as we had thought. It is leaning to much to the left? Or is it the right? Maybe it is our fault? Did we cut to much off the bottom, or perhaps the top? Does it look okay from where you’re standing? Turn it to the right, no- back to the left. At least we can position the bare spots toward the wall.
Ultimately, the ritual is completed. With creative decorating- an overload of tinsel here and a placement of an ornament there, no one will ever notice. The Christmas tree is perfect. Family and friends compliment us on our selection. Carolers point through frosted windows. Where was such a perfect tree found?
Did you ever stop to think, how much we are like Christmas trees?
We’re meeting friends, going to a move or shopping, perhaps to school or a meeting- or just “out”. Maybe we are even going to church. We shower and spend a lot of time grooming in front of the mirror. We coordinate our nicest clothes. Does this shirt match these pants? Do these shoes go with this dress? Does this look okay? How about my hair? How do I look? Perfect?
For the most part, we really show to other people that which we choose to show them. One can only tell so much by looking at us. They have no insight into our personal problems or concerns. They cannot see our hurt, our longing or sadness. They cannot know our fears and faults, or our dreams and desires. Like Christmas trees, much can be hidden beneath the outward appearance.
God though, sees us as Christmas trees in the rough. We are naked before him. God knows our deepest secrets within our hearts- our faults, our sins and the hopes we pray for. God can see our broken branches, our bare spots and our twisted trunk. And with all our imperfections, God continues to embrace us in His love and offer us His mercy. God accepts us as we are- how we are, where we are and who we are.
Like the Christmas tree we discovered on the tree lot, God knows our potential. God sees within us what we can be. So when you greet someone this Christmas season, remember we are not perfect trees- none of us. Offer compassion and charity. Offer an outstretched hand, an attentive ear, a shoulder to lean on or even just a smile to warm a soul on a winter’s day. That is what a Christmas tree does. It warms the soul.
Father Wolf is a retired police officer in New Jersey, the pastor of St. Aelred’s Parish, and an Assisting Priest at Saint Miriam Parish and Friary in the Old Catholic Churches International.