The Cross of Christmas

Rev. Michael Keith

As I have written several times here: I love the practices that we have in the Church. I love learning about them and why we do what we do. Coming from an unchurched background, I had to learn everthing. I didn't know anything. The truth is, as a kid, I didn't know what a nativity scene had to do with Christmas. Christmas was about Santa. What's with these people wearing bathrobes anyway?

There are lots of practices, observances, and traditions around this time of year. I love hearing about all the ancient practices of Christians around Christmas time. I love learning about what they mean and why we have kept observing many of them in our day. There are a lot of great practices that we find at this time of year that point us to Jesus, but here is my favorite:

It is an old practice in the Christian church to take the Christmas tree after the Christmas Season is over and make it into a cross. To do so you take all the branches off so that you have just the trunk of the tree and then you cut the trunk into two pieces--one piece roughly twice as long as the other. You then attach the shorter piece to the longer piece with either some cord or some nails making a cross. And there you have it: a cross made out of the Christmas tree. This cross is then often displayed in the church building throughout the Season of Lent.

The reason why I like this practice is because it cuts through all the sappy sentimentality that we often find at this time of year. Truth be told: I am a little Grinch-y this time of year. Christmas has truly become the most "Hallmarkiest" of holy-days. The cute little pictures of the baby Jesus laying in a cozy manger really have a way of distracting our attention away from the fact that this little baby born of the Virgin is the Lamb of God. This Jesus is the Lamb of God who was born to be the sacrificial Lamb and die for the world's sin. Many of our favorite Christmas hymns do not shy away from this grizzly fact and point us to the cross even as we peer into the manger at Christmas. I encourage you to pay special attention to the words of the familiar hymns this year and take note of how often the cross and Jesus' sacrificial death is mentioned. The manger without the cross leaves us with empty, sweet sentimentality and a hopeless hope that people will somehow just be nice to each other because, well, look... there is this cute baby in a manger and all .

The practice of taking the Christmas tree and fashioning a cross from it is an explicit reminder and connection that the shadow of the cross always fell on the manger. This Jesus was born to die for you.

Christmas is not about how cute and cuddly Jesus was as a baby. It's about your dire and desperate need for a Savior from sin, death, and hell. We rejoice and sing with joy because out of His mercy God sent forth His Son, and Jesus came on a rescue mission. He was sent to rescue you from your sin. He came to rescue you from the devil's grips. He came to rescue you from eternal fire. He came to rescue you from yourself.

And He has accomplished His rescue of you. It is finished. His life, death on the cross, and His resurrection has saved you. We rejoice and sing that we have been saved and that our Savior has come and we are safe with Him! In the waters of holy Baptism He has rescued you from the curse, far as it is found. In the words of Holy Absolution you hear words of truth and grace spoken to you from your Savior through the pastor. As you kneel at the altar, your incarnate Lord comes to you with His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins--and we wonder at His love.

Rev. Michael Keith serves as pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church and SML Christian Academy in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada. He can be reached at keith@st-matthew.com.

Created: December 28th, 2015