Connect Recap Notes: December 24, 2017
Speaker: Skip Heitzig
Teaching: Christmas Under the Tree
With roughly 30 million sold every year, Christmas trees are one of the most popular and cherished Christmas traditions. Decorated trees adorn our homes, shops, and churches during the holiday season. The question is: What does a tree have to do with Christmas? Pastor Skip posed three questions, showing how the tree points us to Christ:
I. Where Did the Tree Originate?
II. What Does the Tree Demonstrate?
III. How Should Believers Celebrate?Points
Where Did the Tree Originate?
- Some see Jeremiah 10:2-4 as referring to a Christmas tree. It doesn't. The text references a period around 620 BC, long before Christ.
- The actual history of the Christmas tree stems from the Middle Ages in Germany, corresponding to a play about Adam and Eve. It was called the Paradise Tree.
- Later, German families put a tree in their homes on December 24. They hung wafers on the tree, representing the bread of the Lord's Supper, and later put candles, representing Jesus as the light of the world.
- But the first real Christmas tree goes back to Martin Luther in the 1500s. He decorated an evergreen with lights, telling his children that Christ came to penetrate the darkness.
- Luther got the idea while walking through the forest at night. He noticed how stars sparkled through the branches. He brought a tree home and decorated it with candles.
- By the 1800s, decorating a tree and putting gifts beneath it became a popular practice in England, largely through Prince Albert and Queen Victoria.
- Probe: Share some of your unique family traditions surrounding Christmas. Do you do anything special with the tree or during the holiday season? How do you bring Christ into your traditions?
What Does the Tree Demonstrate?
- Along with a tree, people usually have something under the tree: gifts.
- Like Luther's Paradise Tree covered with candles, Jesus is our gift, bathed in light.
- Christmas presents have a unique history as well. Biblically, we derive the practice from the wise men who brought gifts to Jesus.
- But the actual practice began with Nicholas of Myra, a fourth century pastor in Myra, Turkey.
- Nicholas was a defender of biblical teaching, especially the Trinity. He testified to biblical doctrine at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.
- In addition to his strong doctrinal teaching, he had a compassionate heart. He gave food to the poor and gifts to children.
- Probe: How does Nicholas reflect Jesus? For example, both Jesus and Nicholas proclaimed truth and practiced what they preached. Why is it important that our words match our witness?
How Should Believers Celebrate?
PracticeConnect Up: The biblical teaching of the incarnation (Christ coming in human form) is central to our belief as Christians. How would you describe the incarnation? Why is the incarnation important to a biblical understanding of life? How does the incarnation provide salvation when nothing else could (hint: God alone can save)?
- We should celebrate by letting the tree speak to us of God's gift of Jesus, and point us to another tree—the cross of Christ.
- Of all the trees in the world, only one is the focal point of history: the cross of Christ.
- The cross of Christ is our tree of life because His death on the cross enabled eternal life for the world.
- Think of the parallels between a Christmas tree and the cross:
- Branches: Both have branches. The cross has only two, one on the left and one on the right, representing Christ's outstretched arms.
- Colors: With the cross, there is only one color: red—representing the shed blood of Jesus.
- Snow: Christmas trees may be flocked with snow, but the cross was flocked with Christ, who died so we can be whiter than snow.
- The Bible refers to the cross of Jesus, an instrument of Roman torture, as a tree (see Acts 5:30; Acts 13:29; Galatians 3:13; and 1 Peter 2:24).
- The best Christmas present isn't what's under the tree, but Who hung upon the tree.
- God has presented the best gift for us on the tree—eternal life. When we see the manger, there's a shadow of the cross in its midst.
- Probe: As Pastor Skip pointed out, three trees have summarized human existence:
- Tree of Knowledge
- Tree of Life
- The Cross
- Take a moment to discuss these three trees. How did our disobedience surrounding the first two trees lead to the use of the third tree?
Connect In: The two major holidays of the Christian year— the birth of Christ, the incarnation (Christmas), and the death and resurrection of Christ (Easter), act like bookends of the Christian year. Why are both holidays central to our understanding of the Christian life? In the Bible, God commanded people to hold celebrations to remember what He had done for them. Why are holidays important to celebrate and remember?
Connect Out: Christmas is one of the easiest ways for a person to invite a non-believer to church. Now that Christmas has passed, take a few moments to pray for people that found new life this Christmas season. Ask God for the following:
- Assurance of salvation
- Conviction of sin, turning from prior habits and lifestyles
- Desire to dig deep into God's Word
- Cultivate the fruit of the Spirit
- Empowerment by the Holy Spirit for ministry and service