Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Real Christmas Tree

 The Christmas Tree, with its fresh pine aroma, sparkling ornaments, and brilliant lighting, is our most endearing symbol of the happiest season of the year.  Americans spend over a half a billion dollars a year on their Christmas Trees. Each year the furniture is moved aside to make it the central decoration of the home.  Without a tree, and without lights, Christmas would not seem Christmas at all.

Along with all the other customs of the holiday season, we wonder why we have the Christmas tree. Most of us assume that this large woody plant allowed in the living room must have some relationship to the story of Bethlehem.  The star that many place atop the tree clearly does, however history shows no connection with the tree itself.  The Christmas Tree, which is now almost a unique American custom, was likely absorbed from the ancient pagan rituals of barbaric German tribes.  It originally was a form of tree worship. 

Tree worshiping has been found in the ancient cultures of many different nations.  Primitive humans have been awed by the majesty of living trees.  However, if we could go back far enough, there is evidence that some forms of tree worshiping might be a degeneration of ancient Gospel teachings.  For example, in the Garden of Eden account, it was a tree which brought about man's mortality.  We also find frequent scriptural references to another Tree, one who's fruit would give the partaker Eternal Life.  This is "The Tree of Life"  The references to this miraculous tree is often forgotten by most us today during Christmas, but scriptures and ancient teachings have much to say about this special, life-giving tree.  The symbols of this tree point directly to Christ, his healing power, and His loving atonement, so we might call it the tree of Christ or even, the real Christmas tree.  Its symbolic representations has been used by the Lord on special occasions, dreams to prophets, and a points to a personal encounter with the things we celebrate on Christmas.  We all know what was beneath the Star of Bethlehem.  And since we place a star atop our Christmas trees, we can see a bit more correlation to the symbol beneath our Christmas Tree star.  The tree, and gifts.   

Our custom of decorating a Christmas tree might be more meaningful if we knew more about the real tree of Christ, where it has existed, what it looks like, and where it is to be found by us individually.  The Tree of Life from the section heading of D&C 88 is said to be an olive tree. Olive oil as we know symbolizes the holy Ghost, and is commonly referred to in Scriptures.  There is another, very personal reference to this Tree of life.  It comes from a seed, one that Alma in the Book of Mormon invites anyone interested to plant in their own heart.   

There is perhaps no better time to try Alma's tree-growing experiment (Alma 35) than during the Christmas season which warms our hearts with the spirit of giving, sweet memories of renewed friendships, and the pleasant reminders of the beautiful story of Bethlehem.  The seed Alma invites all to plant, grows to become "A Tree of Life", because that is what the seed is intended to become.  Once planted it grows, it is your own, because you planted the seed in your own heart.  It grows and if cared for properly becomes a tree of life, creating a paradise inside your own temple.  Christmas is a time when can often find it easier than ever to "let our hearts be full drawn out continually unto God."    

As we seek out, or enjoy a Christmas tree to place in the heart of our home, this Christmas let us contemplate the necessity of seeking out the Lord's Christmas tree to place in the heart of our inner-most being.  As we decorate the evergreen with lights and shiny tinsel, we can fill our hearts with the light and joy Christ bestowed by his gifts.  We can looking forward to the time when "His tree of life will spring forth with fruit which is sweet above all that is sweet, pure above all the is pure."

It is then that we will be able to respond as Nephi when asked: "Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?  "And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.
And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul."
Then the spirit of Christmas will truly be the delicious fruit of the holy tree of Christ.

(Paraphrased and adapted from "The Real Christmas Tree" by Max Skousen)

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