By this weekend, we ought to have taken out our Christmas decorations from the store room. Yes, taken out, unwrapped, and hopefully the fairy lights, and whatever lights, still work.
Come to think of it, putting up the decorations can be like a good spiritual preparation for Christmas. Because we will have to learn how to handle the frustrations and disappointments that comes with the season.
And Christmas may seem to be just like our job at the office, as in we do all the work and the fat guy with the suit gets all the credit.
Still we will try to numb the nagging reality of life by trying to get into the festive mood, so we distract ourselves with putting up the festive decorations.
At least we will try to put up a Christmas tree. Certainly not a real tree as real trees are costly and times are tough.
But an artificial tree will do, just like the one that is outside. And we try to decorate it to give it a Christmassy look.
And that should be enough to bring us through the season. At least we hope that the lights won’t burn out before Christmas Day, or at least the lights won’t burn down the tree.
But what is the big fuss over the Christmas tree? What kind of biblical or religious significance has it got?
Well, the Christmas tree is used to symbolize Jesus. He is the shoot that springs from the stock of Jesse, the scion that trusts from Jesse’s roots, as the prophet Isaiah said in the 1st reading.
Jesse was the father of King David, whose reign brought about the golden age of Israel. But after his reign, Israel declined and the kingdom was split and was overrun by her enemies over and over again.
Eventually when Israel was exiled into Babylon, King David’s descendants became an obscurity.
But the prophet Isaiah wrote of hope, that one day a shoot will spring forth from the stump of Jesse and bring about Israel’s glory.
Jesus was that shoot that sprang into a tree, a life-giving tree, a hope-giving tree. And that is why the Christmas tree is an appropriate symbol for the season.
Besides being an evergreen tree that retains its colour in the midst of winter, it is also a sign of life and hope, when everything seems to come to a standstill.
And that is why we decorate our Christmas tree with other meaningful symbols like the star, lights, and those other things that symbolize what Jesus is about and what He came to give us.
One of the things that we surely won’t find, and nor would we put under the Christmas tree, is a gift-wrapped, ribbon-tied sharp axe. The kind of axe that John the Baptist talked about in today’s gospel, the kind of axe for chopping down trees.
Somehow, John the Baptist is interested in our Christmas trees. Whether real tree or otherwise, he is ready to chop it down, if our Christmas tree do not symbolize anything about our Christian belief, or about our Christian way of life.
Not that he is jealous just because Christmas trees cannot be found in the desert, because that is where he stays.
But what he couldn’t stand is that we so-called “fake” our Christmas, by having nicely decorated Christmas trees that have no meaning in our lives whatsoever.
So for example, we put a big star at the top of the Christmas tree. That star is a symbol of the star of Bethlehem that led the wise men to find the infant Jesus.
As we put up the star, are we going to tell our children and our family members that we are going to have family prayers from now on, and follow Jesus in His way of love.
As we put up the lights on the tree, are we also going to tell our family members and our children that we are going to make our home a place of warmth, joy and peace.
And the gifts that we put beneath the Christmas tree, do they symbolize the self-giving love of Jesus?
John the Baptist may be welding his axe and demanding that we show our repentance by bearing good fruits, yet that repentance can be a beautiful spiritual experience when we understand God’s self-giving love in the beautiful mystery of the Incarnation at Christmas. There is a beautiful story that reflects the self-giving love of God at Christmas.
Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy. And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples. And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade. And the boy loved the tree very much. And the tree was happy.
But time went by. And the boy grew older. And the tree was often alone. Then one day the boy came to the tree, and the tree said, "Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy."
"I am too big to climb and play" said the boy. "I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money." "I'm sorry," said the tree, "but I have no money. I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and you will be happy." And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away. And the tree was happy. But the boy stayed away for a long time, and the tree was sad.
And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy and she said, "Come, Boy, climb up my trunk, and swing from my branches and be happy." "I am too busy to climb trees," said the boy. "I want a house to keep me warm," he said. "I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?"
"I have no house," said the tree. "The forest is my house, but you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy." And so the boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak. "Come, Boy," she whispered, "come and play." "I am too old and sad to play," said the boy. "I want a boat that will take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?" "Cut down my trunk and make a boat," said the tree. "Then you can sail away... and be happy." And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy ... but not really.
And after a long time the boy came back again. "I am sorry, Boy," said the tree," but I have nothing left to give you - My apples are gone." "My teeth are too weak for apples," said the boy. "My branches are gone," said the tree. "You cannot swing on them." "I am too old to swing on branches," said the boy. "My trunk is gone," said the tree. "You cannot climb." "I am too tired to climb" said the boy.
"I am sorry," sighed the tree. "I wish that I could give you something .... but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump." "I don't need very much now," said the boy, "just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired." "Well," said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, "well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest." And the boy did, and he was happy. And the tree was happy.
Yes, at Christmas, God gave us His only Son out of love for us. On Good Friday, Jesus allowed Himself to be chopped down and reduced to a stump in order to save us.
Yet out of this stump, Jesus rose, and He wants us to rise with Him. May our Christmas trees symbolize who Jesus is to us. May it also symbolize who we really are to others, as we give of ourselves, just as Jesus gave Himself for us.