The following are some musings I have had about how I and others could use the Christmas tree as another way to integrate Christ into our Christmas thoughts.
When my wife was growing up in the beautifully forested northwestern state of Oregon, her family had many wonderful traditions at Christmas time. She recently shared with me one of these traditions that I would like to share with you. Every year, about a month before Christmas, her family would journey to a tree farm and together they would scour the area for a tree that was just right. When they found one, they would chop it down, load it in her dad’s truck, and go home where they decorated it. This was a festive time of family togetherness and fun, one which has created in her many fond memories.
No matter where they are found in the world, many Christian families have their own Christmas traditions regarding a tree. I know in my family the Christmas tree occupies a prominent spot in the home from Thanksgiving until about a week after Christmas. A Christmas tree can be a wonderful symbol. Among other things, when we use an evergreen, it represents to me the everlasting life brought to the world by Him, even the babe in the manger grown into a man, who said: “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26). Now, I wish to also reflect on some other thoughts that come to mind as I gaze upon the Christmas tree. I wish to reflect upon the “trees” of Christmas.
My first reflections take me back to a garden long ago which the Lord had planted “eastward in Eden. And out of the ground made [He], the Lord God, to grow every tree naturally that is pleasant to the sight of man.” (Moses 3:9). Specifically mentioned are two trees: “And I, the Lord God, planted the Tree of Life also in the midst of the garden, and also the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” (Id.). Although I will shortly address the Tree of Life, for now I wish to dwell on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil of which the Lord commanded Adam and Eve: “thou shalt not eat of it…for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Moses 3:17). These prophetic words came to pass and Adam and Eve, having been tempted by that serpent and partaken of the fruit of that tree received the promise that they “would return to the ground- for they shall surely die- for out of the ground [they were] taken: for dust [they were] and unto dust [shall they] return” (Moses 4:25). Thus came death into the world, who, like the Lord, is no respecter of persons. Death claims all, from the infant child to the very old- it comes by what we call “natural causes” and through freak accidents. Nobody escapes! In fact, by the law of justice, that first judgment which came upon man by Adam “must needs have remained to an endless duration. And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more.” (2 Nephi 9:7). But the Lord, in His infinite goodness and mercy, “prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster, yea, that monster, death and hell, which [is] called the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.” (2 Nephi 9:10).
To comfort Adam and Eve in their afflictions after being cast out of the garden and given the knowledge that they would “surely die,” the Lord in His great mercy and tender love caused the Holy Ghost to fall upon Adam and testify to him the words of the Savior that “as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.” (Moses 5:9). And thus I think of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and with that I contemplate the consequences and implications of the fall of man as I gaze into the Christmas tree, as well as the Lord’s goodness in preparing a way for us to overcome death and hell.
From that garden and tree of so long ago, my thoughts then wander to another garden, this one of olive trees, where knelt in agony a branch grown out of the roots of the rod from the stem of Jesse. (see Isaiah 11:1). This branch was none other than “the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning,” who, “dwelling in a tabernacle of clay, [had gone] forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases.” (Mosiah 3:5-8). Yes, in the shadow of an olive tree in that Garden of Gethsemane the very Son of God underwent suffering so intense for the sins of the world that it “caused [him], even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit . . . Nevertheless, giving the glory to the father, [he] . . . finished his preparations unto the children of men.” (D&C 19:18-19).
The preparations finished in the Garden of Gethsemane that great and terrible day were in direct fulfillment of the Lord’s afore mentioned promise to Adam after his removal from the Garden of Eden that he could be redeemed. Indeed, we read in the New Testament that “since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). This “being made alive” comes in two ways. First of all, every man, woman, and child who ever lived will be resurrected. This includes everybody, no matter how good or wicked they may have been. This will be a restoration, even a restoration of “evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish- good for that which is good; righteous for that which is rigteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful.” (Alma 41:13). The second way in which we are “made alive” is through redemption from spiritual death or sin. That Book of Mormon prophet Jacob tells us that “He cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.” (2 Nephi 9:21). Because of His atonement in the shadow of those olive trees, all men can be saved from their sins and because of His death and resurrection all men will live again.
Pondering this idea in my heart causes my thoughts to wander from the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane to still another tree- a tree this time of sadness and darkness, but one also of such hope! Our prophet, President Hinckley, has said of our Christmas celebrations:
We honor His birth. But without His death, that birth would have been but one more birth. It was the redemption which He worked out in the Garden of Gethsemane and upon the cross of Calvary which made His gift immortal, universal, and everlasting . . . Because of Him all men will be raised from the grave.
(Gordon B. Hinckley, “A Season for Gratitude”, Ensign, Dec. 1997, 2). Thus the third “tree” I reflect upon as I gaze into the Christmas tree is the cross (see Acts 5:30).
It was on this “tree”, the cross, that the Savior willingly gave that which was most precious, His life, making Him above all others our truest friend (see John 15:13). Yet awful as was that terrible day, three days later that same “Christ is risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.” (1 Cor. 15:20). Indeed, we read in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon that after He was resurrected, “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, …and went into the holy city and appeared unto many.” (Matthew 27:52-53, see also 3 Nephi 23:11). This may all seem very abstract, but when we realize what it means for us personally, it becomes very poignant and the “sting of death is swallowed up in Christ” (Mosiah 16:8, see also Mormon 7:5). Let me illustrate with an example from my family. When I was about 2, my Uncle, Thomas Fellows (whose name I bear, for my name is Jordan Thomas Fowles), was entrusted to the care of the Lord as went to serve a mission. He was my Mother’s only brother and the pride and joy of his father as the only son. About midway through his mission a tragic accident occurred on the highway which took his life. While my family was very sad because they would miss him terribly here on earth, they were comforted because of their knowledge of the atonement and the resurrection. For them, the sting of death had been swallowed up. I am grateful that Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate, was willing to give his life for us that we may all live again in spite of “Adam’s transgression.” (2d Article of Faith). Surely, the “Love of God” is manifest in this act. (see John 3:16; see also 1 Nephi 11:22).
The love of God brings my reflections to still another tree- the Tree of Life. The “Tree of Life” was the other tree specifically mentioned by the Lord in the Garden of Eden, whose fruit stood in “opposition to” the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. (2 Nephi 2:15). We learn from Alma in the Book of Mormon that “if it had been possible for Adam to have partaken of the fruit of the tree of life, there would have been no death.” (Alma 12:23). To have partaken of the Tree of Life after having partaken of the forbidden fruit would have caused Adam to “live forever, having no space for repentance.” (Alma 42:5). Thus we see that the Tree of Life is akin to eternal life, which as the greatest of all gifts our Heavenly Father can bestow. (see D&C 14:7), is indeed “a representation of the love of God,” (1 Nephi 11:25).
We are taught this truth by Nephi, who after hearing of the Tree of Life from a vision seen by his father, inquired of the Lord to know its meaning. To teach him the meaning of the Tree of Life, an angel takes Nephi to a place which for him is still 600 years distant. Nephi describes this experience is his own words:
And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou? And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins…And he said unto me: The virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh…And I looked and beheld a child in her arms. And the angel said unto me: Behold, the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! 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.
(1 Nephi 11:14-22). Yes, in the very instant Nephi saw that pure and fair virgin bearing the Son of God in her arms, he felt in his heart and soul what the Tree of Life and its fruit represents- the love of God.
Therefore, as I gaze into my Christmas tree this year, it is intricately and intimately woven together with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane, the tree of the cross, and the Tree of Life by the thread of Christ, reminding me undoubtedly that “there is no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:17). As Christmas time has indeed become a time of trees, it is imperative that we remember Him who is called “the Lord of the Vineyard,” (see Jacob 5), as we gaze into our Christmas trees during this festive season.
If you have read/skimmed until this point, I congratulate you. I have more thoughts about this, but will spare you of them. Suffice it to say that although the Christmas tree certainly was not originally meant to be a symbol of all those things, what’s to stop me from so associating it to enhance my joy in Christ this season?