The Messy Beauty of the First Christmas Tree

Throughout the Scriptures we find attempt after attempt to stop the Messiah’s arrival.

Christmas is a time of conflict. This is supposed to be a time when we enjoy ourselves, spread good cheer and are considerate. But in reality, that isn’t quite what we see. Just go ahead and try to find a parking space at the mall right now.

Industry analyst Marshal Cohen has pointed out, “Retailers have basically ruined every holiday. They have commercialized every single holiday by creating a good reason to promote something and drive traffic.”

For a long time Thanksgiving was pretty much untouched until retailers concluded they can’t wait until Black Friday. Opening stores on Thanksgiving is a new custom now. And every year we read crazy stories about shoppers on Black Friday.

One store opened its doors and a senior citizen sprayed someone with pepper spray to get to some towels she wanted. Another article pointed out that a shopper sprayed mace behind him as he ran toward the electronics section of a store. A woman shopping for shoes was unhappy that her size wasn’t available, so she threw a shoe. It split a salesperson’s lip.

And then there are all the conflicts with family. We all have families that are perhaps a bit dysfunctional. As a result, it can make Christmas very unpleasant. Instead of looking forward to it, we find ourselves dreading it.

Yet the conflict of the original Christmas was far more severe than the conflicts we experience today. Satan did not want there to be a first Christmas. In fact, he did everything in his power to stop Jesus from being born.

He knew the Messiah was coming through the Jewish people. So we see his first attempt to stop Christmas in the book of Exodus, when Pharaoh gave a decree to put to death all the Hebrew baby boys. But through God’s providence, one of those babies was preserved and taken into Pharaoh’s court. That beautiful little baby, Moses, grew up to be the deliverer of Israel.

During the period of the judges, Satan used Israel’s neighbors to destroy them. Yet God preserved his people and raised up judges to deliver them—people like Samson, Deborah and Gideon. And then there was King Saul, who tried to kill David. If David had died, it would have been a problem, because the Messiah came from David’s descendants.

Both Mary and Joseph’s genealogies trace back to David. That is why, when everyone was required to return to their original hometown to be taxed, Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem, David’s hometown (see Luke 2:1–4).

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Then in the book of Esther we find Haman plotting to wipe out all the Jewish people. But his plot backfired, and he ended up hanging on the gallows he built for someone else.

Fast-forward to the New Testament, which tells of wise men coming from the East. By the way, the Bible says they had three gifts; it doesn’t say there were three wise men. Who knows? There might have been nine, and they all pitched in for the gifts. Guys do stuff like that because they’re cheap.

Whatever their number, they arrived in Jerusalem saying, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him” (Matt. 2:2).

Word of this reached Herod, who happened to go by the title the King of the Jews. So Herod went and murdered all the boys in the Bethlehem region under the age of 2, hoping to stop the Messiah from coming.

Throughout the Scriptures we find attempt after attempt to stop the Messiah’s arrival. But it’s good to know that God always has the last word.

When you get down to it, I think we’ve taken the raw, powerful message of Christmas and, in many ways, made it a little too pretty. A manger or barn with animals is not the most sanitary environment for a baby. Yet that doesn’t diminish the Christmas story for me. In fact, it shows me the incredible sacrifice God Almighty made.

Jesus left the glories of heaven because he loves all of us. We might say the shadow of the cross lay over the beauty of that first Christmas night. When Mary took the newborn Jesus to be dedicated in the Temple, a man named Simeon was there with a message from the Lord.

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He told her, “Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35). He was saying, “Mary, what’s going to happen will be painful.”

That is why Jesus came. He came to die on a cross, and we don’t want to think about that. We want to think of the sweet baby in the manger. Of course, it’s fine to think about that to some degree. But let’s not forget why he came. He was born to die that we might live.

Red is the color of Christmas not because Santa wears red, but because of the blood of Jesus that was shed on the cross.

And the real Christmas tree is not a pretty one we’d light up and decorate. Rather, it’s the tree Christ hung on for all the sins of humanity. The Bible says, Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”) (Gal. 3:13).

It was there that Jesus crushed the head of the Devil. And it is there that God offers the ultimate gift to humanity.

Joy, peace, fulfillment—those are great things that God gives to us as Christians. But they’re fringe benefits. The biggest gift is eternal life. That is what Jesus came to this earth to bring us. It’s his gift to us. And it’s truly the gift that keeps on giving.

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This article originally appeared on Greg’s blog and is reposted here by permission.