It's not long to go to the big day now! The halls are already decked with mistletoe and holly. Tinsel will be draped over banisters. Presents are rapidly accumulating by the hearth. Stockings are dangling from the mantle-piece and waiting to be filled. There may be an illuminated snowman, sleigh, or reindeer on display at the front-door. However, there is a passage in the Bible, more than anything else, has convinced me this year that every Christian ought to have at least one Christmas Tree.
What Sort of Tree is Best?
I don't however mean one with baubles, tinsel, artificial spray-snow, fairy lights, with an angel or star perched carefully on top. Nor am I thinking, in this instance, of Norwegian spruce, a copper pine, or a standard fir-tree, picked up from the local store or hacked down in a nearby forest. We all, I guess, have the perfect tree in mind - but the one I've come to cherish is without a branch or leaf and will certainly, thankfully, not leave needles scattered on the floor!
A Family Tree
The tree I'm referring to, that every believer needs, is the genealogical lineage of Messiah. It is recorded for us, by the evangelist, in Matthew 1:1-17 set - Levi begins his Gospel with this vital spiritual spruce which he describes as:
"The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham ...so all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations," Matthew 1:1, 17.
'Why', you may ask, 'are you suggesting that it should be compulsory for Christians to have this Christmas tree?' Let me give you a number of reasons that are evident in the text - I pray, at this season, may serve as a resource for spiritual reflection and blessing!
This family tree is a beautiful, historical, growing, legal, saving Christmas tree...
A Beautiful Tree
Step back from this tree! View it from a distance! It is hard to miss its glory and magnificence unveiled in the symmetry and regularity of the tree! In the power of the Holy Spirit, the evangelist draws our gaze to the three great Old Testament epochs. Each stage of God's plan unfolds over fourteen generations.
"And after the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel ...the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born who is called the Christ," Matthew 1:12-16.
The point is unmistakable: as God's Kingdom purpose expanded slowly, nothing was random or ad hoc but rather deliberate, methodical, ordered and structured by divine wisdom. In this lineal descent a secret power was a work. This family tree reveals an eternal strategy undergirding the sovereign, most wise, government of God.
An Historical Tree
If we traced this tree back to its roots we would find it grows out of the soil of Eden. Matthew looks at the plant from the shoot and, unlike Luke, omits underground Adam to Terah. This tree, you must understand, had been growing from the beginning. It first took shape for Israel with the selection of family Abraham. Till his day to the Christ, it continued to increase, in every age of earth. If this is the case then, without Christ, secular history makes no sense. The account of planet earth, and its various inhabitants and events, can only be properly explained in relation to the Lord. Empires ancient and modern, racial movements of peoples, war and hostile rumors, find their true significance in relationship to Jesus of Nazareth. Since Christ is the lynch-pin of history, Pilate is central but Pompey only peripheral, while Hitler is just an extra while David has a lead role. God steered all world events to prepare for the coming of Jesus. It is His sacred dominion that will draw the book of secular history to its decisive, consummative, conclusion.
A Growing Tree
The family tree of Messiah could simply not be stopped. Tall and strong it grew until it yielded fruit at last. On numerous occasions its future health seemed precarious. By supernatural intervention its destruction was prevented and further progress guaranteed. A few key moments should suffice to illustrate this point. In the Abraham to David section we could mention the barren womb of Sarah: not until human hope was gone and both parents neared the ton was the son of promise born (Genesis 21:1-7). Judah's seed looked shaky with the death of Er and Onan - the tree was only maintained by the extreme resourcefulness of Tamar (Genesis 38:1-11, 24-30). Pharaoh had to be routed and the Canaanites expunged - divine plagues, wind, trumpets, hail and astronomic phenomena easily took care of them. The line was rescued again by plucking Boaz' mother Rahab from Jericho's ruins (Joshua 6:22-25). David would not have been sired unless famine had been sent to force Elimelech into exile to find a wife for aging bachelor Boaz (Ruth 1:1-5, 22; 4:9-11, 13-22). We gloss over the threat to death posed to David by Giant Goliath! How can we ignore the almost constant danger that 'chainsaw' Saul posed to the young pretender to his throne - on numerous occasions the son of Jesse came within a whisker of losing his life: he survived to tell the tale of how God delivered him from all his enemies. We move on to wicked Queen Athaliah who was thwarted in her attempt to uproot the royal family - infant Joash was hidden in the sanctuary (2 Kings 11:1-3). How can we forget the enraged threats of Haman in Esther - Mordecai and Esther preserved the Jews from Holocaust. Imperial powers of Assyrian, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome were moved about like pawns or swept aside by the LORD - all were merely tools to bring the church away and home, till Augustus had the idea to raise a Roman Tax: each world event finally led to the Bethlehem Birth. Despite years of life and love poured out on Palestine, Jews rejected their own Christ. Yet, this too was all by God's foreknowledge and set purpose: with helping hands of wicked men, they dangled God-Man from the Cross - everything aiming at the goal of international bliss! All this is clear proof that God's wonderful plan could not be stopped. Nothing could destroy this royal fir tree - if, at one point, it was hacked down to Jesse's stump, it was Jesus the promised shoot who emerged to give new life and fresh impetus to the line.
A Legal Tree
The Christmas Tree of Christ will never be taken down as a fraud. This recorded lineage meets every requirement a lawyer could reasonably demand. It identifies Jesus of Nazareth as adopted son of guardian Joseph. Though conceived by the Holy Spirit, in the womb of intact virgin Mary, God's Son is both rightful heir of the promise to Abraham and the legitimate heir to the throne of David. He is fully qualified to fulfill every gracious divine covenant - all the promises of God are overflowingly filled and heartily 'Yes' and 'Amen' in this seed. He raises up to the brim the cup of hopes and dreams of pent-up Messianic expectation. Now by grace, through faith, in Mary's supernatural man-child, His true disciples have access to the heavenly land of promise, where spiritual blessing flows to all nations - this grace and mercy river of milk and honey streams unceasingly from the Lord's throne, for His dominion never ends. What joy we take in the fact of His conquering and crushing all God's enemies and ours. How comforting to take refuge in the divine crown rights of Christ.
A Saving Tree
This noble prince could not forget his roots. Incarnation in flesh like ours marks full identification with us. Instead of standing aloof, while yet remaining spotless, he steps down into the murk and mire of the unholy family. Abram was an pagan idolater when called to renounce the lifestyle of Chaldea (Joshua 24:2-3). Isaac's lad was a corkscrew crook who craved covenant blessing but didn't care how he obtained it. His sons were the product of a polygamous four-mother family 'unit' (Genesis 35:23-25). Judah, the chosen heir, was happy to sleep with a shrine-prostitute (or so he thought - Genesis 38:12-26).
"Abraham was the father of Isaac ...the father of Jacob, the father of Judah, the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar," Matthew 1:2-3.
The next fourteen generations incorporate a giant-killer who later became an adulterer and murderer. His son was a sex-addict with a harem who turned him aside to idols. His grandson Rehoboam was a wicked, hot-headed, schismatic. A few generations later Uzziah is struck a leper and excluded from temple worship. While Hezekiah started well, he wobbled when attacked, and after believing was guilty of pride. Manasseh 'takes the biscuit' as the wickedest apostate - his arrogance and apostasy became legendary in biblical history: what amazing grace that He did a U-turn before death - we will join his songs of praise in worship of the Lamb.
It would be jaw-dropping and mind-zapping, in itself, if the Redeemer of the Elect was born from human stock. Yet the Christmas Tree of Christ reveals an even more startling truth: Messiah Jesus can number among his relatives some of the world's most notorious sinners and not a few, one-time, hardened, idolaters. Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and mercy of God. How unsearchable are the steps in Messiah's family tree by which shadey, motley, characters were set as rings in its trunk, and brought to depend on Christ.
A Faithful Tree
If it asked why Messiah's redeeming work was so tightly bound to covenant, it seems that this was the method that pleased God best: this was the scheme that maximized disclosure of divine glory, and revelation of grace to His foreknown, beloved, saints. Promises fulfilled proves the power and faithfulness of the LORD and the reliability of His Word. Appended solemn oaths, and covenantal signs and seals, deepen assurance and trust in the heart of true believers. Solemn ratification by sacrificial blood made such arrangements binding and inviolable. Addition of blessings disclosed God benevolent design. Curse pinpointed human guilt as the woe to fall on Christ, that benediction might rest on all Abraham's believing children. What joy for Matthew to tell the world that all God's Covenant Plan is now cemented by Christ's Cross. If God's power can accomplish all this, let Matthew dispel personal doubts - the Sovereign Redeemer of History will also sign-off on our own final chapter.
What a Christmas Tree - but what an amazing God! This is the Triune Yahweh, Holy Father, Son and Spirit, who in spite of creature rebellion delights to show pardoning mercy. This is the God who has sent His Only Begotten Son, born of a Virgin, incarnate in their nature, identified with sinners (remaining spotless Himself), to rescue them from the pit, by being plunged into their Hell. He is not ashamed to call them brothers or be found among their number - this Christmas Tree speaks of the Good Shepherd Jesus who laid down His life for His sheep.
I'll think then, you'll agree, if you follow my train of thought, that this is one Christmas Tree that cannot be done without.