The perfect Christmas tree is hard to find, particularly when you are tramping around the mountains instead of a tree farm. But what would Christmas be without a tree? And out West, there could only be one type of tree suitable for Christmas'”a pine tree. The tree is the center of our Christmas decorations and is the focus of much of the Christmas spirit into our homes. Therefore, finding the right tree is important'”essential even.
I can see him now, standing on top of the hill, a good quarter of a mile from the truck, and pointing at a pine tree ten feet high. A giant among Christmas trees if there ever was one. Excitement fairly radiated from his seven year old face. “This one, Daddy! This is the one!”
“Son, that tree will never fit into our house,” I felt obligated to point out.
My son was not about to be deterred. “We could cut off the bottom until it fit, Daddy. Please? It’s perfect!”
To his eyes, so it seemed. The branches seemed full enough and the sparse areas could be turned towards the wall and hidden. But I suspected the size of the tree was the true source of my son’s jubilation. I handed him the tree saw. “You found it, boy, you get to cut it down.”
That suited him fine. I watched in amusement as his little arms sawed frantically at that tree making little progress. After awhile, his small face looked up at mine in mute appeal. I bent down beside and him and together we cut the tree down. It fell with a satisfying swish of limbs and powdered snow.
When we finished hauling it back to the truck, my wife eyed the too tall tree, our son, and then me. She smiled knowingly and I just gave her a shrug. “Come on you two; help me load this monster up.” Our son just beamed.
We ended up having to cut about two and half feet off the bottom to make it fit in our house. But once in place, the tree decorating began. This, mind you, is an ordeal around our home. You cannot just toss some ornaments on and call it good, not if you are my seven year old son, anyway. If he had his way, the tree would be so filled with decorations that you would not even be able to see the branches! But it was the tinsel, or as he called them, the icicles, that became the highlight of the decorating process. Believe me, more than just the tree got decorated with the stuff!
Standing there, all finished, my son stared at the tree with serious eyes and a thoughtful expression.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It needs presents under it.”
Of course! What good is a Christmas tree without presents! Fortunately for our idealistic child, we had some presents all wrapped and ready to go. Watching him place the presents in strategic places under the tree'”his out towards the front where he could stare at them and dream of opening them'”I realized how essential the Christmas tree had become to the overall spirit of Christmas. Just as Jesus Christ is the central part of the Christmas story, the Christmas tree had become the symbol of the spirit of Christmas.
Christmas came. The story of Jesus’ birth was told, the presents were opened, pictures and memories were taken, and laughter filled the house. Over it all, the Christmas tree presided.
But that night I stood before a decorated tree, devoid of presents, and, suddenly, devoid of purpose. My son was off playing with his new toys, the tree forgotten, no longer important. I noticed just how dry the tree had become. The needles no longer looked bright green and fresh. Many had already fallen off, sprinkled beneath the tree like shed tears.
A few more days passed, and the Christmas tree was largely ignored. My wife finally announced, “It’s time for the tree to go, honey.” Indeed it was. The tree really looked forlorn.
Our son, I noticed, had not near the enthusiasm to take down the tree as he had to put it up. “Do I gotta, dad?” he whined. He looked over his shoulder at one of his new toys.
“You gotta,” I told him. “It’s part of the job.”
Once the decorations were off, packed, and placed in storage, the only thing remaining was the tree itself. Bare of its decorations it truly seemed out of place, nearly dead, and in the way. We lugged it outside and down to the curb where the trash truck would pick it up.
“Can I go now?” my son asked in a rush.
I looked at him and then at the Christmas tree lying on the curb. Only a few strands of tinsel remained to remind us of the grandeur the tree once possessed for us. “What about the tree?”
My son glanced at it. “It’s dead. It’s no good to anyone.”
“No good,” I echoed. Something came over me then, an idea that could mean a profound teaching moment with my son.
“You know, that tree died so you could have a happy Christmas.”
He looked at me quizzically. “What?”
“It’s true. You were so excited about the tree when we first got it. But now that it is dead and Christmas is over, it doesn’t matter to you much. But it died because you wanted a Christmas tree.”
My son started to squirm a bit, looking slightly guilty.
Taking my son by the arm, I walked him back towards the door and pointed at the ground. “What do you see there, son?”
He looked down. “Pine needles.”
A trail of them ran down the driveway to the discarded Christmas tree. “That’s right. You see, each of these needles represents a present, a picture, a laugh that all of us had. We had a wonderful Christmas, but to have it, this tree lost its needles and died. We hung the tree up for everyone to see. It brought us cheer, goodwill, and peace. You liked all of that, didn’t you?”
My son nodded his head mutely.
I led him back to the dying tree. “That’s just like what Jesus did for your sins, son. Jesus died so you could go to Heaven. They hung Jesus for all to see on a tree, a dead tree, just like this one.” My son stared at the tree in silence. “And because Jesus died, we can live forever in Heaven and enjoy eternity with no more sorrow, no more pain. We have a lot of sins, but Jesus carried every one of them on the cross.”
I could tell by his thoughtful look that I was getting through to my son. “So the Christmas tree is like Jesus?” he inquired softly.
“Yes, just as we brought the Christmas tree into our house so we could have a good Christmas, we need to bring Jesus into our hearts so we can go to Heaven.”
“But we’re throwing the tree away,” he pointed out. “I wouldn’t want to throw Jesus away.”
“Many people do, son. They forget all that Jesus did for them and live their lives as if He never died for them. But if you ask Jesus in your heart, He will always be there. He will never go away. He is the Son of God. He rose from the dead, and all you have to do is invite Him into your heart and you can go to Heaven someday.”
“Daddy,” my seven year old son said, “can I ask Jesus into my heart?”
And there, next to the dead Christmas tree, my son knelt and asked Jesus into his heart. And from now on, I will never be able to look at a Christmas tree'”particularly a dead one'”the same way.
To learn more about the author or to check out his book, Fitly Spoken, a book on developing communication and social skills for relationships, visit: www.fitlyspoken.org