Most of us have Christmas traditions of some kind – Christmas trees, decorations, and Christmas light drives. I have some cherished childhood memories of starting up the ski-doo and driving into the bush with my father to find the perfect tree. On most occasions we found a satisfactory one. On one occasion my dad spotted this 50-foot coniferous deep in the bush on our property. It was a kind of “Griswold moment” where the light shone and a choir could be heard. The top of this pine looked glorious. Yup, that would be our Christmas tree. Only problem was, we didn’t have a chain saw and so we would have to chop the thing down. When we finally dragged the crowning 7 feet home, we were surprised at just how sparse this tree really was. It looked so much more magnificent looking up 50 feet from ground level.
The tradition of the Christmas tree has very little to do with the celebration of the birth of Christ. In the early 17th century, Germans had transformed the pagan symbol of fertility into a Christian symbol of rebirth. According to folklore, the Christmas tree tradition began with Martin Luther. In 1841 Prince Albert of Germany gave his wife (Queen Victoria of England) a gift of a “Christmas tree”. German immigrants later took the Christmas tree to other parts of Europe and North America. As we think about treasuring our traditions I thought it would be interesting to reflect on the Biblical Christmas tree – Jesus’ “family tree”. Jesus’ birth is anchored in deep roots, prophecies, and traditions which the people of Israel prized deeply. Matthew 1:1-17 gives us one of these genealogies and we might ask, “Why was this recorded here?”
This genealogical record shows us that Jesus was human. While the full birth narrative describes the wonder of the incarnation, here we are impressed with the reality that Jesus was flesh and blood. He felt hunger, thirst, fatigue, and temptation. He was God and Man. The record further connects Jesus to two significant Jewish Covenants. Genesis 12 and 15 tell us how Abraham was to become the father of a great nation. This was the Abrahamic covenant. Jesus was a Jew of the line of Abraham. He was a fulfillment of this critical covenant. However, there was a second covenant. From David’s line would come an eternal king who would establish an eternal throne. How the Jews understood this fully is in part a mystery, but they did believe that Messiah would come from the line of David (2 Samuel 7:11-16). But there is more. This genealogy displays the grace of God by having his Son closely associated with a checkered past. First, there were women who stirred some level controversy: Tamar who had an incestuous relationship with her father-in-law, Rahab who was a prostitute and a gentile, Ruth was also a gentile, and Bathsheba had an adulterous relationship with David. Then there were men who displayed moral failures: Patriarchs who displayed deceit and compromise along with kings like Manasseh and Rehoboam who were desperately wicked men.
Ultimately, the record shows us that Jesus was the legal heir to the throne of Israel (in Matthew’s Gospel through the line of Joseph) and therefore as King has the right to rule – the right to rule Israel. In John 18:37 Pilate declares: “You are a king then!” And Jesus answers: “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Remember too, how the inscription above Jesus on the cross stated: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (John 19:19). Jesus has the right to rule Israel, the right to rule the world as the King of Kings, and the right to rule you and me! As you reflect on all of your meaningful Christmas traditions, and as you gaze on your Christmas tree, think about the family tree recorded in the Gospels. Think about the culmination of all of Israel’s hope in one person – the Messiah. Cherish your traditions, but moreover, cherish Jesus our rescuer, our Saviour, and our the King.