Well advent is almost upon us so I thought I’d take some photos of our Christmas tree this evening.
This year I thought I would try and capture the Christmas lights, so I turned most of the background lights off downstairs and put the camera on a slow shutter speed after setting it up on the camera stand. This was the result. Not nearly as good as my sister-in-law would do (she’s a professional photographer with her own business) but not too bad considering how rusty I was.
Which brings me to deeper matters. There seems to be a lot of nonsense that goes on in the blogosphere about Christmas trees, which I’m sure you’ve heard. You’ll find some Christians condemning them for their pagan associations, and you’ll find some Pagans condemning Christians using them for precisely the same reason.
I prefer to take a more contextual approach to the whole issue and ask, is being a miserly scrooge the best way to share the good news of Christmas? Can the use of Christmas trees in Christmas celebrations be redeemed as a Christian practice, and if so how?
Well, let’s look at what the Bible actually says. Firstly, yes, the decorating of trees does come in for some rough treatment at one point. In Jeremiah 10:2-4 the prophet warned Israel not to adorn trees with silver and gold. But let’s look at this more carefully; what was the prophet Jeremiah so concerned with. The answer: idolatry. Hmmm. Well, yes, idolatry is bad news for Christians and, yes, I do know people who are into core shamanism and who would encourage you to honour the spirit of trees, so we shouldn’t dismiss this warning lightly, but is nature worship really what the average Australian or American is engaging with when they put up a Christmas tree?
In order to formulate a response we need to analyse our culture as well as our Bibles, as the apostles did, to ensure our message is in sync with what is really going on. And when I do that the answer I come back with is that we are far more in danger of worshipping the consumer lifestyle around Christmas than worshipping artificial trees.
So before we leap into the boycotting of Christmas trees, I think it’s best to look at what the whole Bible says and one verse that immediately leaps out at me comes from another prophet, Hosea. For in Hosea 14:8 the word of God relayed to us is, “O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols? I will answer him and care for him. I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me.” Ponder what is going on here. In response to nature worshippers, YHWH effectively declares, “You know that deeper experience of life you are seeking through nature worship, well, look for it in me, for my roots go so much deeper.” In this God appropriates the iconic power of trees for himself and says, “I am like that.”
Given this, is it really so inappropriate for Christians to celebrate Christmas with a tree topped with a star that directs our attention to the most wonderful birth in history?
I think discernment is required, in how we decorate out Christmas trees, so that the good news continuously outshines the consumer message, but lets not fail to celebrate.
So, what do we decorate our Christmas tree with in the Stone household? Angels and stars and wise men of course!
Here are some close ups of our decorations (click to enlarge).