The Story of the Christmas Tree, Act 3

In Act 1, we learned how the little fir tree became important to Christians. Boniface used the tree as an object lesson to teach about God! Then in Act 2 we learned about the Paradise Tree and its use in teaching about Creation and the Fall. But it would be another 350 years before the final act would take place.

In 1512, a brilliant young theologian named Martin Luther was brought on to teach at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. But Luther was much more than a theology professor. Luther was a passionate student of God’s Word. So passionate, in fact, that it got him in quite a bit of trouble over his lifetime. On October 31, 1517, Luther wrote a letter to bishop Albert of Mainz. In it, he included a copy of his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences," which came to be known as The Ninety-Five Theses. Luther’s studied objections to “indulgences” and other church practices eventually led to his excommunication by the religious leaders of his time earned him the title of outlaw by the Emperor. In fact, it was made a crime for anyone in Germany to give Luther food or shelter. Nevertheless, Luther refused to back down, stating publicly, “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything.”

In 1525, Luther married former nun Katharina von Bora. Because of Luther’s status, money was often short, but the marriage was strong. The two had six children, and by the time his first child was born in 1526, Luther had already shifted his focus to the organization of a new congregation of believers based on his beliefs.

As the story goes, one wintery night, Martin Luther was returning home to his family. It was dark and cold, but the sky was filled with millions of stars. The trees, mostly tall evergreens, were covered with frost. Legend has it that Luther was meditating on God’s word, preparing a sermon for his people. When Luther saw the stars twinkling in the sky through the icy green pines, it reminded him that Jesus was the light of the world. Luther was deeply moved by the beauty of this natural wonder and the spiritual truth it brought to mind. When he arrived home, he was eager to recount his experience to his family. To help them understand, he gathered some candles and hung them on a little fir tree to represent the twinkling lights he had seen on his walk home. The tradition of lighting the tree with candles had officially begun. Eventually, a “tree skirt” was placed underneath to catch the melting wax from the candles.

Perhaps that walk was the seed for Luther’s thoughts when he would later quote and then comment on Isaiah 60:1 in one of his Christmas sermons: "’Arise, shine ; for thy light is come.’ Undoubtedly, Christ is the light of which Isaiah here speaks, and which, through the Gospel, shines in all the world, enlightening those who rise — who desire him.”

And so, from a tiny fir springing out of the stump of a mighty oak, to a tree decorated for a play, to a legendary walk by Martin Luther, the story of the Christmas tree is born.

But to be fair, the value of the fir tree goes back even further than any of these stories. The prophet Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Creator himself, would speak these words more than two thousand years before Boniface or Luther:

“Evergreens will grow in place of thorn bushes, firs will grow in place of nettles; they will be a monument to the Lord, a permanent reminder that will remain” (Isaiah 55:13).

As you gaze at your Christmas tree this week, may it remind you of His Story as recorded in the Bible. He is the creator. He is eternal. He is three in one. And even though Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, He sent the Light, Jesus Christ, to save us.

Thank you, Lord, for the Christmas tree that keeps telling that story year after year. Amen.
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