Hello and welcome to this message from Skip Heitzig of Calvary Church. As these messages are shared worldwide, our prayer is that God uses them to bring more people into his family. If this message impacts you, let us know. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you'd like to support this ministry financially, you can give online securely at calvaryabq.org/give.
Christmas trees are a popular symbol of Christmas, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Well, there's a tree that is symbolic of Christianity, the Tree of Calvary, the tree Jesus hung upon to set us free from sin and give us new life in him.
We invite you to open your Bible as Skip begins the message, Christmas Under the Tree.
I love Christmas. I love all things Christmas. I love Christmas trees, love packages, love the songs, love the time of the year. I want to talk to you a little bit about the tree, the Christmas tree.
It's been said that the tree that you put up in your home says a lot about you. Everybody has their own tree, whether it's flocked or it's traditional, or what ornaments they have.
But if you only put white lights up on your Christmas tree, you're the kind of person that asked your house guests to remove their shoes. If you put multi-colored lights on your tree, you are an extrovert. Blinking lights shows that you have attention deficit disorder.
If you have home-made ornaments on your tree, you have lots of children. If you have strung popcorn on your tree, you have too much time on your hands.
If you have red balls only on your Christmas tree, it means you wish you lived in a department store. A yellow star on top, you're a traditionalist. A cut off top means you didn't measure the tree.
A vague evergreen smell in your house means you bought a healthy tree. A strong evergreen smell means you sprayed your tree with pine-sol. And just plain smelly tree, there's a dead bird in your tree somewhere.
One of the most cherished traditions is a Christmas tree. It goes up about a month before Christmas. Typically in this country, though, some of us don't do it till very late. But it's one of the most cherished, iconic traditions of the season, the Christmas tree.
This year, 30 million Christmas trees were sold in our country. And right now, 350 million trees are growing on Christmas tree farms in all 50 states of the United States.
But here's a question, what does a Christmas tree have to do with a Savior who was born? What does a pine tree or a fir tree, or a spruce tree, have to do with a baby born in a cave 2,000 years ago?
Now, some would answer that question and say, absolutely nothing, Christmas trees are really pagan in their origin. Some will say Christians shouldn't have them up. We get letters typically every year-- I get asked every year, why do you have a Christmas tree up? That's sort of a pagan symbol.
In fact, did you know that in the 17th century, in our country, Christmas was forbidden to be celebrated by the Puritans? They believed that Christmas shouldn't be a time of joy and frivolity, but seriousness. So for 22 years in Boston, it was against the law to celebrate Christmas. And people who would open their shops up on Christmas were either penalized or they were fined, because it was looked down upon.
But I don't think that we should get Santa claustrophobic about it all and have bah, humbug as our mantra this time of the year. I think that we should use the Christmas tree to look ahead because it points, and it should point, to another tree, as you have seen in this production.
So what I want to do is ask three simple questions and answer them. First of all, where did the tree, the Christmas tree, originate? Number two, what does the tree demonstrate? And finally, how should believers celebrate?
Let's think about the origin of the tree. Now, some like to immediately point out that it is a pagan origin, Babylonian origin, books have been written on the subject. And people, when you mentioned Christmas tree, go, oh, I know where that comes up, that's in Jeremiah chapter 10.
Now, listen carefully. The prophet Jeremiah says this, "The customs of the peoples are futile, for one cuts a tree down from the forest, the work of the hands of a workman, with an axe, they decorate it with silver and gold, and they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it does not topple." That's the first few verses of Jeremiah 10.
And I remember hearing people say, that is a picture in the Bible of a pagan celebration of the Christmas tree. Well, excuse me, this was written in 620 BC, Christmas wouldn't even be around for another six centuries. So it can't be a Christmas tree.
Second, what the prophet is speaking about is not somebody putting a Christmas tree and putting ornaments on it, but rather taking a tree out of the forest and fashioning an idol out of it, and then placing that on a stand so it's immovable, so that it can be worshiped either in the town or by a family. It was against idol worship.
So that is not what it's referring to. Probably the first celebration of what we would look at as a Christmas tree comes in the Middle Ages.
And during that time, in Germany, there was a celebration every year in German homes. And they had a little tree, they called it a paradise tree. What were they celebrating? Every year in December, on December 24th, they believed that was the Feast of Adam and Eve. So they would take a tree, bring it into the home, they'd place little apples on that fir tree because that was the symbol of them, of the Garden of Eden and the fall of mankind, the sin of mankind in the garden. That was the paradise tree.
Then, eventually they would put wafers on the tree, which symbolize the communion bread that was taken when Jesus said, "This is my body." They put little candles on that tree to symbolize that Jesus broke through the darkness and is the light of the world. So that paradise tree was sort of like the first Christmas tree, but it was celebrating the Feast of Adam and Eve.
In the 1,500's, the great reformer, Martin Luther, was walking through the forest one evening and he looked up through the pine trees and he saw the stars. It was as if the stars were bejeweled ornaments on the fir trees.
And he had an idea. He cut down a tree, brought it into the house-- the story goes, put candles on that tree. This is way before there were fire marshals to outlaw such things-- and thank God for fire marshals, by the way. But before there were lights, he put candles on the tree and he told his kids, and he told the children who saw this, this speaks of Jesus, who penetrated the darkness of this world and came to set men free. And that was really the first Christmas tree.
Now, that started catching on a little bit and more and more people did that in Germany. But it wouldn't be for another 300 years where what we see as the standard Christmas tree came into vogue. And that happened when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert decided to take that custom, make larger trees, and encourage people of England to use such implements and items trees, and they put little gifts on it and candies on it, and little glass-blown ornaments, and gave gifts. And that is really where it became more popularized was during queen Victoria's reign in England in the 19th century.
Now, years have passed. And it's just sort of passed down to us, right? We grew up with Christmas trees, we put them in our homes, we don't really bother to wonder where they came from, what they symbolize, but that's where they came from.
Now, around the 1960s, we got really modern and clever, and there were these things called aluminum Christmas trees. Anybody remember those? You go, remember them? That's the tree I still use. OK, whatever.
So I remember my parents loved Christmas trees, and my dad would go out every year and get one. And what he liked were the flocked Christmas. Trees they would blow that stuff on him and make it look like snow, and he'd bring it in. And he thought that was super cool.
But one year he looked in a Sears catalog and found a white plastic Christmas tree. You need to stick it together. And he looked at that and looked at what he was doing with the flocked Christmas tree and all the mess that made, so he thought, I'm buying the plastic one. And that's the tree I remember every single year in our house, putting together the white plastic Christmas tree.
Now, thankfully, over the years some people have gotten away from that. And they make it their family tradition to go out into the forest and cut their own tree down, a live tree, and bring that home and decorate that with the family. So we're sort of getting back to the original idea of it. But that's where the tree originated.
A second question is, what does the tree demonstrate? Now, when you look at a Christmas tree, typically people look at it, notice how pretty it is, but then they go down and they notice underneath, there's something under the tree. And what is that? Gifts are under the tree. And that's because the tree demonstrates the spirit of giving. That's what the paradise tree was all about, and the first Christmas tree by Martin Luther, that God gave His son, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the world's greatest gift. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 9, "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift".
So the presents under the tree even more than the trees speak of the spirit of giving, for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son.
Now, I would say that's what kids think about when they think of Christmas. They don't think about how cool the tree is, they think about what's under that tree that I'm getting. They're thinking about the gifts that they're going to receive. We all do that as kids. Some of us still do that as adults.
I remember when I was a kid I made it sort of a habit, if I remembered or I was awake, and I was always giddy on Christmas Eve. But invariably, I'd wake up in the middle of the night, like 2:00, 3:00 in the morning, get up, and I'd go look under the tree.
And one year I really wanted this bicycle three speed bicycle and I was just wondering if I got it. So everybody's asleep, and I sneak into the room where the Christmas tree is, and I look, and you know what I saw? Brand new bicycle, had my name on it. So I'm getting close-- and I remember this vividly, obviously. And I'll tell you why in a moment.
Because I'm getting closer to the bike and reaching for it, I hear my mother's voice. I didn't know she was in the room, but she said, you touch that bike and you won't ride it. Get back to bed.
So I went back to bed, didn't sleep a wink. Got up the next morning and she graciously still gave me the bicycle.
And so every Christmas we give gifts, we wrap them, we put them under the tree, we hope that the person who receives the gift will love the gift that is selected. But it should be speaking of the greatest gifts that was given.
By the way, when it comes to giving gifts, can I just say for the record-- and all the stats will prove me right, women do a better job at shopping for gifts than men do. I'll say that as a man. And I corroborated several sources that, first of all, number one, women buy more gifts than men, number two, they spend more time considering the right gift to buy other people than men do. Number three, they are more successful at finding the right gift that they have thought long and hard about to get for other people. And number four, gifts that women give are returned far less than gifts that men give. This is true. In fact, 10% of the gifts that are given by women are returned. 16% of the gifts given by men are returned. Just saying. Just for the record. Thank you women for thinking of us and going out of your way to get just the right gift.
But gifts can be expensive, right? You know, retailers depend on Christmas for their national or their yearly income. So national statistics show that most retailers-- that the money they get in Christmas time is 70% of their annual revenue. And so they're really out there to make sure that you spend money to buy all just the right gifts for people. It can be expensive.
As the years go on, the prices go higher. And every year-- it's funny, they do this around Christmas time. Banks and institutions will take the 12 days of Christmas-- remember that song? "On the day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree"?
So every year, what banks do is they readjust the cost of all of those items in the 12 days of Christmas. And each year it keeps growing. So according to the institutions for this year, on the 12 days of Christmas re-adjusted to real world prices, the total cost from the 12 drummers drumming to the Partridge in a Pear Tree would be $34,558.65. That's an expensive song.
Now, the Ten Lords a Leaping alone was $55,618.90. it's 2% higher than last year they say because higher wages. I guess it's hard to get lords a leaping these days, they just want more money.
The most expensive item in the 12 Days of Christmas, however, is the Seven Swans Are Swimming. And they say that's due to the unpredictability in swan prices this year. So Seven Swans are Swimming would cost you alone $13,125. So Christmas can be expensive and giving gifts can be expensive.
But gift giving has its own history. The idea of giving gifts at Christmas time goes way back. And what is the origin of that? Well, some people will say, that's when the Magi, the Wise Men, showed up and they gave gifts to the infant Jesus, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. That's the origin of gift giving.
Well, that's a good try, but, really, that's not the idea of giving gifts on Christmas in terms of the tradition that we keep. So the guy who takes the cake as the example in history was a guy by the name of Nicholas. That's right, a real Nicholas who was a pastor. He was a preacher. He was a bishop of Myra in the third century or fourth century. And that's in modern day Turkey. It was called Anatolia back then. Myra of Anatolia. Modern day Turkey.
And the bishop's name was Nicholas. Now, Nicholas, was known as someone who was very compassionate, he cared for the poor. If there were couples getting married and the poor brides who couldn't afford a dowry, he would make sure the money was collected and given to those poor brides so they'd have a good wedding ceremony. He often found poor children and he would give gifts to the poor children in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so the goodwill and the gift giving of St. Nicholas, the bishop, the pastor of Myra, caught on, so that when he died on his feast day, which happened to be December 6th, people started giving gifts to one another because Nicholas had done that before them.
So that is the tradition that gets passed down. By the time that tradition hits Europe, he has white fur and a red cape, and that was to emulate the bishop's robe and mitre, but that's more European in style.
The Dutch called him Sint, S-I-N-T, Niklaas. And then they contracted it to Sinter Klaus, which is where we get our name Santa Claus. Now, why do I bring that up? Because, invariably, people see Santa Claus and the gift giving thing and they go, wouldn't that be nice if any of that were true at all? That's got to be fake, there's nothing-- It'd be really great if there were some fat jolly guy who liked to give people things.
The truth is, there was. I don't know if he was fat and jolly, but there was a real guy named Nicholas who happened to be a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. And in Jesus' name help people out. So that's what the tree demonstrates. We found out where the tree originated from, we see what the tree demonstrates.
The third question I want to ask is, how should believers celebrate? I think we ought to do this. We ought to look at the Christmas tree, understand its meaning and its origin, let it speak to us of God's love, and let it point us to God's Christmas tree, which is the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. That's always the focal point. When it comes to God, that is the focal point of history. The cross of Christ is our tree of life.
Down the street, the other night, I took my grandkids to look at some of the light displays in the neighborhood. And they loved looking out the windows. Oh, look at that one? Oh, pull over, papa. So we went to one house, and I knew what they would say when they saw, they would be oohed and awed by it.
We pulled up and there's this one large property with trees that laden the property. And all the trees were decorated with white lights. Amazing, beautiful, stunning. But there was something else besides all of those trees. There was a single item I wanted them to see. So as we pull up and we're driving up, they go, oh, look at that, papa, look over there. I was taking them there, but, oh, yeah, that's amazing, I said. So, pull over, papa. So I pull over.
And on one side are trees decorated in white lights, on the other side are trees decorated in white lights and right in the middle on this piece of property is a lighted cross. And they just said, look, papa, there is a cross in the middle of all these trees. And I looked at that, I thought, that's what God's Christmas looks like. God isn't interested in fir trees as much as that tree.
That's the focal point of God in human history, the cross of Christ. And on God's Christmas tree there's not many colors, there's one color, and that's the color of red from the blood that His son shed for our sins to redeem us back to God.
It doesn't have many branches, just two branches, one extending to the right, one extending to the left, where the Savior hung and embraced the whole world, those who had come. This isn't a tree that is flocked with white snow, but it is flocked with a Savior, whose sacrifice can make our souls whiter than snow. So the best Christmas gift isn't really under the tree, it's the gift upon the tree, and that is the Savior that was given for us.
Now, do you know that in the Bible, several times, when the authors speak of the cross of Christ, they refer to it as the tree, that He died on the tree? So, for example, in the book of Acts, chapter 13, verse 29, it says, "When they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in the tomb". And then, in Acts, chapter 13-- or Acts, chapter 5, verse 30, "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you murdered by hanging him on a tree." And then, 1 Peter, chapter 2, verse 24, "who himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree."
So if you think about it, all of human history is about three trees, the tree of knowledge, the tree of life, the cross of Christ. If you open up your bibles, not now, but if you and when you do and you read the first couple of chapters of the Bible in Genesis, you discover that there is a tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden, and the tree of life.
God commanded Adam and Eve not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They disobeyed, God banished them from the garden, lest they eat of the tree of life and live forever in their fallen state. But when you read the very end of the Bible, we again see the tree of life appear in the New Jerusalem, this garden-like environment. There's a tree in the middle, it's the tree of life, it's there for the healing of the nations.
So the Bible opens with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, closes with the tree of life that is restored to mankind. And in between those two trees is the cross. It's the one tree that enables people to get to that final tree, the tree of life, and live forever.
So when we come into the manger on Christmas and we behold the baby, there's a strange shadow that falls on that little crib, and that is the shadow of a cross, because that little baby was born for one reason. Unlike all people who have purposes for living, the purpose for this child being born was death. Because the angels said, "You will call his name Jesus, Yeshua, Yehoshua" which means God saves because the angels said, He will save His people from their sin. He came on a mission, and the mission was to go to the cross and to pay the price. To live the perfect life we could never live, then to die in our place, so that the cross becomes the tree of life. It is God's Christmas tree.
Romans chapter 5, verse 9, said, "God demonstrated His own love for us. And while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." That's the heart of the gospel, and that's the heart of Christmas.
There was a policeman patrolling a city in England. One night, he heard the cries of a child, it was a little boy who had been lost, didn't know how to get back home, he was just sitting down on the side of a road crying. And the policeman said, well, I'll take you home, where do you live? The little boy said, I can't remember where I live, I don't know where I live, but take me home.
So the policeman knew he had a problem. And he named several streets to see if the child would remember. He said, I don't know the name of my street, none of those sounds familiar. The policeman started thinking of shops and landmarks in the city, but the child was beside himself, couldn't remember a thing.
Finally, the policeman looked up and could see across town in the center of town, downtown was a landmark church, a very famous church, with a lighted cross, a white cross on top. The policeman pointed to that church, to that cross, and he said, do you live anywhere near that? And the face of the young child brightened and he goes, yeah-- he recognized it. Yes, he said, take me to the cross. I can find my way home from there.
It is true for your life, if you come to the cross, you'll find your way home from there. Your home, at the place where God forgives you, your home, at the place where God receives you just as you are and washes your sin away.
And the best gift ever given was given by God to you, His son, on a cross, on a tree, and all he wants from you is you, is your life.
You know how every year kids sometimes will write letters to Santa Claus? So a little boy named Alfred wrote, "Dear Santa, last year you didn't get me anything good." And he continued. "And the year before that, you didn't get me anything good either." His last sentence was, "Santa, this is your last chance."
God is giving you, right here, at this Christmas Eve service, a chance to get real with Him it's simple, really. All of us have fallen short. Every one of us in thought or deed have sinned against a holy, perfect God. You can't eradicate that, you can't fix that. So God sent His son to be born as a baby, to grow up and live that perfect life, and then die an atoning death on a cross, so that if you just trust in Him, just believe in Him and just look to Him, you will be one of His own children. You will be saved by Him. And all of your failures, misgivings, misdeeds, sins, will be eradicated. And you'll come into a relationship with God and have heaven forever and ever. That's the gospel. And if you're willing to do that, I want to give you that opportunity to receive His gift.
Let's all stand and we'll pray together. Father, as we're here this afternoon, we've seen a fine production that tells us of the birth of a child 2,000 years ago in a little town in the backwaters of the Roman Empire named Bethlehem. But that was a significant city because it was the City of David, the ancestor of the one born that night, Jesus Christ, Yeshua, God saves, for as the angel proclaimed, He will save his people from their sin.
Lord, you came to save us from ourselves. And I pray that some who are here tonight, some who have been committed people to their families, to their communities, are responsible, loving, good, doing good, but they haven't come to Christ yet, they know that deep inside there is that big empty hole that has never been filled, but here is an opportunity to receive the greatest gift and then to just simply give their lives to you and surrender.
I pray, Father, that many would find that gift wrapped in flesh, who went to the cross to pay for their sin. Could it be that you have never received Him as your Savior personally? Could it be that you were taken to church all your life by parents, or children, or a wife or a husband? And you've come to church often but you've never come to Christ at any time? Let this be your opportunity to say yes to the Savior.
As we sing this final song, I'm going to ask you to do something that some would consider bold. And that is to get up from where you're standing, find the nearest aisle, and walk right up here to the front. I'm going to lead you in a prayer to receive Christ. I'm not going to have you raise your hands first, I couldn't see your hands anyway from this vantage point in this setting.
But I'm going to ask you as we sing this song to get up from where you're standing, find the nearest aisle, come stand up in the front, where I'm going to lead you in a moment to just say yes to Jesus, to receive Jesus Christ, the risen Savior, as your personal Lord and Savior. If you've never done that or if you've straight away from Him and you need to come back home, now's the time for you to say yes to Him. So as we sing this song, you just get up and come, and we'll meet you right upfront.
[SINGING] Jesus, I surrender. All to Him I freely give. I will ever love and trust Him in His presence daily there. I surrender all. I surrender all.
All to Thee, my blessed Saviour. I surrender all.
God bless you.
It's Christmas Eve, a great time to receive the gift of forgiveness, the gift of life. Great time to hope. You know, you can give somebody a gift, but they have to receive that gift. Be willing to take it and open that and make it their own. God is giving you a gift, will you receive it?
Come right up to the front. Just gather around. It's a transaction between you and God.
[SINGING] I surrender all. All to thee, my blessed Saviour. I surrender all.
I'm guessing that a lot of people who are coming forward at one time went to a church, or probably when they were growing up a lot. But going to church and coming to Christ are two different things. It's not about just going to church and going to rituals and saying a few prayers. It's saying God, I'm sorry, I need your forgiveness. I give you my life. I want you to save me. It's real, it's humble, it's authentic, it's from the heart.
Anybody else? I want to give you that opportunity, we've got some time, so just come. Just say excuse me. If you're in the middle of a row and you think, I don't want to bother anybody, please bother somebody. Please say, excuse me. Please say, excuse me, can you get out of my way? I want to come forward and I want to go to Heaven. I want to give my life to Christ. It's worth any inconvenience that we might have. The truth is, you won't be bothering anybody. Anybody else? Or Anyone else?
[SINGING] I surrender all to Him, my gift. I will ever love and trust Him in His presence daily. I surrender all. I surrender all. All to Thee, my blessed Saviour. I surrender all.
OK. Those of you who have walked forward, I hope you don't feel embarrassed by having you come all the way here in front of all these people, but you know, Jesus called people publicly when they called them. And I think it's good for you to make this stand in front of a lot of people. You're saying yes to God, and you're saying it while people are affirming and encouraging, as you heard your coming.
So what I'm going to do now is lead you in a prayer. I'm going to ask you to say these words, pray this prayer out loud after me. Say it from your heart, say it to the Lord, as you give your life to Him. Are you ready? Let's do that. Say, Lord, I give you my life. I know that I am a sinner. Please forgive me. I believe in Jesus. I believe He died on a cross. And that He rose from the dead and that He's alive right now. I turn from my sin. I turn to Jesus as my Savior. Help me to follow Him as my Lord. Today and every day, in Jesus' name I pray. Amen.
[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]
Jesus came to this world to die on the Tree of Calvary. Because of that, we get to enjoy a relationship with Him now. And we'll be with him in heaven forever. How would you share that good news with others? Let us know. Email us at email@example.com. And just a reminder, you can give financially to this work at calvaryabq.org/give. Thank you for joining us for this teaching from Skip Heitzig of Calvary Church.