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It’s become a tradition in our family to go out hunting in the woods for our Christmas tree. In specified areas of the Black Hills the Forest Service will let you cut down an evergreen for a modest fee. Of course, the trees out in the wild don’t grow like they do on the farms where they breed and prune perfectly cone-shaped specimens. But we think the fun of finding our own tree overshadows the fact that we don’t end up with the nicest looking tree.

When baby Jesus was born, God had a special Christmas tree waiting just for Him. It too was far from the nicest looking tree. In fact, it was horribly, painfully ugly.

We tend to romanticize the nativity scene. Christmas, for many, is a story right out of a Precious Moment’s book. How quaint! But let’s not forget the tree.

If we had been there with the shepherds, we wouldn’t have seen with our eyes a Christmas tree in the corner of the stable. But it was there, nevertheless. In that joyous event of the Savior’s birth there loomed, dark and threatening, a cursed tree for baby Jesus.

This Christmas tree had no needles, but it did have three sharp nails. It was not decked out with colored lights, but with a beaten and bruised body. It was not streaked with silver tinsel, but it was smeared with the lifeblood of an innocent man.

By now you’ve guessed what tree this was. It was the cross–a tree of execution. This is the tree God had waiting for His Son.

Only eight days after Christ’s birth, Simeon tied the manger directly to the cross when he spoke to Mary of the pain her Son’s death would cause her: “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” (Lk. 2:35).

Born To Die

Now some might say: “Oh, but it’s Christmas. Must we talk about such unpleasant things now? Won’t we spoil the joy of the season if we make that — that tree — a part of the Christmas message?”

Dear friends, unless the cursed tree of the cross is present in our meditation of Christmas, we will have missed the purpose of the season. The plain truth of Christmas is that Jesus was born to die.

Those who don’t want to mention Jesus’ death when they celebrate His birth simply don’t want to face the truth about themselves. The tree of the cross is “decorated” with our sins. Our mixed-up priorities, our loveless deeds, our gossiping, our greed, our lust, our pride — it was all there!

But look again! What else do we find? Underneath the tree on Christmas morning, our children find many wonderful presents. The cursed tree for baby Jesus holds out to us God’s forgiveness and eternal life! “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13).

Perhaps you are one who puts up an artificial Christmas tree. It looks nice. No needles to clean up. You don’t have to give it water. And you don’t have to worry about it catching fire. But just because an artificial tree can be a good idea doesn’t mean we want an artificial Christmas. And that’s what you get if you take the cross out of your celebration.

A popular slogan this time of year says: “Jesus is the reason for the season.” That sentiment is good as far as it goes.

How much better to say that Jesus and His cross are the reason for the season!

–Pastor Michael Wilke