This year, once again, the Lord cut down a Christmas tree for us with His own hand. It’s the tipmost top of a splendid mugo pine from across the street, which blew down in last week’s big wind.
The loud crack in the middle of the night actually woke up my wife. It’s a little early to set up this tree in our living room, so for now we have it out on the porch, decorated with lights. Thank you, God!
The same thing happened about ten years ago, when the tree right beside this year’s fell prey to a wind storm in early December, delivering a beautiful little tree right into our backyard. Its unusual shape—gloriously gangly and wild-looking—made it one of my favorite Christmas trees ever.
That morning, I recall, I happened to open my Bible to Ezekiel 17. For the most part I’d found my daily readings in Ezekiel to be incredibly rich. But by this point I was beginning to weary of his relentlessly gloomy prophecies. It certainly never occurred to me that he would have anything to say about Christmas.
What a surprise, then, to come upon verses 22-23:
Thus says the Lord GOD: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. (ESV)
Commentators agree that this passage is a prophecy of Christ. It describes God the Father selecting a tender shoot from the lofty top of His own “family tree”—the sacred lineage rooted in Abraham and extending through David all the way to Mary—and transplanting this sprig to the “mountain height” of Jerusalem, where it grows to become capable of sheltering “every kind of bird” in its branches. This picture is echoed in Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed, which is “the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Mt 13:32).
Ezekiel’s parable, too, is a sublime story about the kingdom of God, especially the incarnation of Christ, the heart of Christmas. It even features a Christmas tree—the “noble cedar” whose branches are full of colorful birds reminiscent of decorations.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are thy branches!
Granted, we don’t normally harvest our festive trees from the “lofty top” of a large tree. Nevertheless, exactly this sort of tree has graced my own home three times. Two are mentioned above, and the third was the year when we had to face the sadness of seeing a beautiful wooded lot in our neighborhood cut down. As compensation, we received the gift of a free Christmas tree—this time the tipmost top of a tall black spruce left by the loggers.
One other similar time comes to mind, when my wife Karen, as a teenager, served as a counselor at a summer camp that celebrated Christmas on July 25. Having been put in charge of the decorations, she needed a Christmas tree. But that year, for the first time, it was forbidden to cut any trees in the forest surrounding the camp. What to do?
On the morning of July 22 Karen happened to read in Genesis 22 the story of Abraham nearly sacrificing his son Isaac, when at the last moment the Lord intervened to provide a ram. Karen was particularly struck by verse 14: “So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.’” (NIV)
“Well, God,” Karen prayed, “maybe You could provide a Christmas tree?”
Sure enough, on the morning of July 23 she found, right on the path in front of her cabin, a perfect little tree—the lofty top of a majestic fir deposited by last night’s wind storm.
Every Christmas we hear the same set of scriptures read in church: the prologue to John, the birth narratives from Matthew and Luke, or Isaiah 9: “To us a child is born”. To this roster I suggest the addition of Ezekiel 17:22-4. I think the dour prophet, now rejoicing in heaven, would be mightily pleased.
By the way, if you like my stories of the surprising ways God has provided our family with Christmas trees, you can read another account of these events in my book Twenty-One Candles: Stories for Christmas. Look for the story called “Christmas in July.” And if you’d like to purchase an e-book version, NOW IS THE TIME! Until Dec 3 the e-book price is just $4.99 US. After Dec 3 the price rises to $8.99 US.
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P.S. As a postscript to this story, I have to add an anecdote from Marj Chan that was submitted as a comment on my Facebook page:
“I’ve really enjoyed your book Twenty One Candles. Love the Christmas tree story posted today. The first time we hosted a CMDS Christmas gathering in the Okanagan many years ago, I was trying to think of a way to decorate the huge barn-like space we had without the cost of the several trees it would require. I was loathe to use streamers and balloons. So I prayed for an idea. A few days ahead of the event, as snow was falling, my car’s headlights illuminated a dozen large limbs that had landed on the lane. I had to get out to move them so I could get into my driveway. I’m sure you will relate to how I knew this was the Lord’s answer. I stood each branch in commercial ice cream buckets filled with sand and covered them with tiny clear lights. We had a wonderful feast and worshipped in music and prayer, surrounded by friends and a little forest of sparkling trees.”
Thank you, Marj!