Reason for the Season, Christmas, the Origin of the Christmas Tree, and Saint Boniface
The Reason for the Season
All I could think about when I first titled this was “It’s the true meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown” in Linus’s voice from Peanuts and his well-known rendition of the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.
In case you haven’t heard the Christ story or you think Christmas is about feeling good because you gave someone a present and visited your family and did “good” things this season, just know that Jesus is the true reason for the season.
Christmas is our celebration of Jesus’s birthday, the coming of our Savior. He was born on this day and I can’t let you go searching through my blog without seeing the story of Jesus.
Jesus was born as a man in order to be able to suffer like a man like we do. He died for us as a man so that we may have eternal life in Him. The Bible spoke of a Messiah coming to us through the form of a baby boy, and God chose Mary, a young teenage girl to be His mother. She was visited by an angel of the Lord who told her what was going to happen. Mary asked him how this was to be since she was a virgin and had no husband. The angel replied that she would carry the baby Jesus and the Lord would provide a husband for her. He sent her Joseph, a carpenter, who became her husband. When he found that she was pregnant with Jesus, he wanted to privately separate from her to keep her from the shame of being pregnant with what he thought was another man’s baby. The Lord visited him in a dream and told him of all that He planned to do with Mary and Joseph.
The story continues as Joseph keeps Mary as his wife and decides to trust in the Lord and His plan. You have to put yourself in their shoes and just think about this story and how hard it was for these people to put the Lord’s plan first. How many of your friends would believe you if you were a young teenager around Mary’s age-13 or 14-saying she had gotten impregnated because God willed it to be so? Her friends probably all thought she was lying like Joseph had and they thought she had just done it the old fashioned way. Her friends and all those around her were probably disgusted with her and ashamed to be her friend and thought she was lying.
Imagine being ostracized like that.
Back in those days, it was considered shameful to have a child out of wedlock-it’s become a much more common occurrence now though thirteen and fourteen is still considered very young. Think about what that made Joseph look like. He was marrying some girl that had gotten impregnated by another man or so it looked like. He had to father someone else’s child.
King Herod, the ruler at that time, had sent out a decree that everyone must be taxed and returned to their birth place. Mary was severely pregnant by this time, and they had to travel to Bethlehem where Joseph’s lineage was from to pay their taxes. When they got to the city, it was packed full and no one wanted to have a pregnant woman with another man’s baby and a poor carpenter. They were forced to take the only shelter they could which was in a barn where all of the other guests kept their donkeys and livestock. It hadn’t probably been cleaned in many many days and reeked of animal feces and sweat.
People also did not bathe regularly back then. They considered it a privilege of the wealthy and had communal bath houses even for the rich.
Imagine having your first child here. Imagine the anger and frustration and exhaustion and the fact that you were going to have a baby-your first baby in a barn. And then add the fact that this was the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace that they had been foretold would arrive and he was to be born in a lowly stable. He was supposed to be their Leader and be clothed in purple and wear gold. He was magnificent. He was to save them all from their tyrant Caesar and their King Herod. No one would believe that he would be born to those filthy carpenter people of Nazareth.
Angels came and ministered to shepherds keeping watch of their flocks by night. They were afraid at seeing the angels but the Angel of the Lord told them to not be afraid because they were bringing them “great tidings of great joy which shall be to all people”. This is the good news. It isn’t just God’s chosen people-the Jews- who shall go to Heaven, but it changed to the Gentiles-people outside of the covenant.
The birth of Jesus-his arrival here on earth- meant that more than just the Jews could be a part of the covenant. Anyone could be a Christian from any background or any skin color or either gender. That is the good news. The shepherds came to worship Jesus and sing praises to the new King.
A star appeared in the sky above where Jesus laid in a manger- a dirty trough filthy from dusty animals and sloppy water. It was not even fit to bathe in or drink from-yet our Lord rested, swaddled in cloths in a moldy manger. Wise men from the east saw the star and interpreted it as the sign of the coming Lord. They traveled far to reach Jesus and worship Him, knowing that He had come. Word reached King Herod and his corrupt heart he knew that his reign had ended. He did not want a new king, one that all of the Jews would call their new ruler in his stead. He wanted to rule over them all as long as he lived. He invited the Wise Men to his palace, pretending all the while to ask them where they were going and to tell him where they found Jesus so that he too could come and worship him. The Wise Men agreed and went on their way, finally finding Jesus and worshipping him and giving Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gold for His Kingship, the myrrh and frankincense to anoint him as King and the symbolism for embalming that foreshadowed His final job here on earth.On their way back home, the Wise Men were warned in a dream to stay away from the lying King Herod and returned a different way.
When King Herod found out that he had been tricked, he ordered that any babies under the age of two be killed in Bethlehem. Joseph was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt. They escaped before Herod’s law had reached them and Jesus was safe. That is the Nativity story. The story of Jesus’s birth and the TRUE MEANING of Christmas.
The true background of the Christmas tree and its origin is also Christian. There was a saint called Saint Boniface, and he was a German missionary. He falls into the category of Saint Paul with his fearless preaching and constant traveling. During our Hanging of the Greens service at church, we read this story as we decorate the tree in the back and hang the wreaths. The wreaths symbolize Christ’s eternal promise with the ring and the Chrismons that we decorate the tree are literally translated as “Christ Symbols”. They are felt cutouts of symbols of Christ and the children decorate them every year before Christmas to decorate our tree in the back of the church.
Lights were first put on the tree by Martin Luther, who described the candles that he lit as reflections of Christ being the Light in the world, very appropriate for his birthday. I found this story online on this article and decided to share it with you… “Boniface spent the rest of his life evangelizing the areas of modern Germany and parts of the Netherlands. He also became a friend of the Frankish court and helped reform and reorganized the Church in that area. From his missionary travels, Boniface knew that in winter the inhabitants of the village of Geismar gathered around a huge old oak tree (known as the “Thunder Oak”) dedicated to the god Thor.
This annual event of worship centered on sacrificing a human, usually a small child, to the pagan god. Boniface desired to convert the village by destroying the Thunder Oak, which the pagans had previously boasted the God of Boniface could not destroy, so he gathered a few companions and journeyed to Geismar. His fellow missionaries were scared and fearful that the Germans might kill them, so they balked when they reached the outskirts of the village on Christmas Eve. Boniface steadied the nerves of his friends and as they approached the pagan gathering he said, “Here is the Thunder Oak; and here the cross of Christ shall break the hammer of the false god Thor.” Boniface and his friends arrived at the time of the sacrifice, which was interrupted by their presence. In a show of great trust in God and born from a desire to enkindle the fire of Christ in the German pagans, Boniface grabbed an axe and chopped down the Thunder Oak of mighty Thor. The Germans were astounded. The holy bishop preached the Gospel to the people and used a little fir tree that was behind the now felled oak tree as a tool of evangelization. Pointing to it he said, “This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace… It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.” Awed by the destruction of the oak tree and Boniface’s preaching, the Germans were baptized.”
I hope everyone had a beautiful and holy Christmas and spread the love of Christ wherever you went.
Xoxo, Merry Christmas! Char