Isaiah 60:13 “The glory of Lebanon will come to you,
The juniper, the box tree and the cypress together,
To beautify the place of My sanctuary;
And I shall make the place of My feet glorious.”
It’s hard for me to admit how close we are to Christmas this year. Every year since my son was born has gone by much faster than the year before, but it at least felt like there was an easy traceable progression to it. The global pandemic and the lockdown seem to have made things hazy, and as I talk to others, they agree. I’m not sure, when we look back at 2020 and 2021, how we will separate the blurry lines between the two. It may be hard to accept, but decorations are already everywhere.
While I think that the Nativity has earned its spot as the top Christmas decoration, especially when efforts are made to make it more biblically accurate, I have to confess that for much of our culture, it’s the Christmas tree that takes center stage. Some even sing “O, Christmas tree, O, Christmas Tree, how lovely are thine branches.” While I have seen many Christmas trees that are indeed beautiful, I confess to having some inner conflict when I look at most Christmas trees, and specifically what passes as ornaments these days.
Last year, I was able to spend time discussing myths about Christmas. Some have used out-of- context Bible verses to paint the Christmas tree as a false idol, and I don’t know anyone who worships the Christmas tree. There are popular, but dubious, claims that trace the Christmas tree and Christmas itself back to pagan origins, and most of these claims are easily refuted as out right false. A few merely hinge on superficial similarities. Last year, I quoted from Isaiah 60:13 to show that, yes, even God used trees as decorations, so I feel obligated to defend their use.
I personally love the Menorah and recognizing Hanukkah. I’m not genetically Jewish, but I know that Jesus himself celebrated Hanukkah, and it’s even recorded in John 10. I also served with some messianic Jewish Christians. We do, however, have a Christmas tree in our home, and I always have complicated feelings when decorating, not because of some pagan association, but because of a different form of worldliness.
I’ve sometimes held Taz, the Tasmanian devil, or some other cartoon character as a Christmas ornament, and wondered, “How does this celebrate Jesus?” I’m a nerd, and I’m not a minimalist. I have shelves with little replicas of my favorite fictional characters on them. I see no problem with little knickknacks or mementos that remind us of some of our favorite stories or nostalgic times in our life, as long as they don’t become idols. I’m also not suggesting that the little Christmas ornaments themselves become idols, but I do wonder if they belong on the Christmas tree.
This hasn’t stopped me from assisting my family in putting up decorations. I even have a tiny little tree-shaped alien, Groot, that I set in the office as my “Christmas tree.” I’m not worshipping them, and the characters do cause me to smile, and I am reminded of my own childhood, and even one ornament, sadly lost over the years, my mom gave me as a child with the Ninja Turtles on it. So, for those reasons, I keep participating; however, the older I get, the more I appreciate the classic, non-licensed character ornaments.
If we must have the best and the latest decorations or gifts, we may be trapped by pursuit of them. We may wrap our own happiness in the temporary and the fleeting and be distracted by the unchanging Joy we can have in Christ. The time we spend, or the items themselves, may be good, but I’d hate to miss the better, long-lasting meaning for temporary enjoyment.
Christmas shouldn’t be about companies making money off of our nostalgia or emotional connections. We live in a materialistic and consumer-driven society. I love the design process, and I understand economics, but Christmas should be Heaven invading our world, not our world invading our celebration. The metaphor has its limits, but it seems backwards for us to put so much focus on the temporary, at a time we should be celebrating the eternal. Christmas only heightens that contrast for me.
I have stood at the back of our sanctuary and in the sound booth at night and seen the beauty of our decorations in the church. They are free of all the little temporary characters and feel purer. They feel like a reminder of the beauty we can find within God’s creation. God knew the aroma created by each of the trees He designed. He knew that man would look up at the beautiful stars and that the lights would encourage our imaginations. He knew the way light would reflect off metal and catch our eyes. He made us as creatures who recognize beauty, because He did make our world full of it, before we marred it; its remaining beauty points back to Him, the Artist and Creator of that beauty.
This year, as you see decorations go up, I hope they inspire you — not to add some other item to your wish list or another task to your to-do list, but to respond in thankfulness and worship to a Wondrous Creator whose hands make beautiful things.