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Advent Reflection (2): It's All About Trees
Submitted by AFAN team member Mike Ward a Christian on 23/12/2010 08:56
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For us Christians, this is still Advent. Single-handedly, I am fighting the Campaign for the Real Advent by refusing to listen to carols, buy presents, put up decorations and all the other Christmassy stuff until at least the 24th December. This year the weather has come to my aid, doing its best to delay Christmas shopping by reminding us that in the winter white stuff has a tendency to fall out of the sky, sometimes in decent quantities, and everyone runs around, surprised by it all, like headless chickens. (And you call this snow? Hey, where I lived in Scotland this did not even register as a snowflake. Did I ever tell you about the time when a snow plough at Glenshee actually drove over the top of a car which had completely submerged in a snowdrift, or the Wick to Inverness train that disappeared one night in a snowstorm? Now that is what I call snow.)
But in anticipation of Christmas, let's talk about trees because trees seem to have been part of Christmas since time began. It is sometimes said that Dickens invented the modern Christmas, but in fact it was the Germans who thought of the idea of chopping down a conifer, bringing it inside and calling it a Christmas tree. The ancient German tribes had never taken kindly to their tree-gods being disturbed (Boniface came to a sticky end after by felling one especially sacred tree) so I guess the Germans must have challenged the forest locals to a football match, the winner takes the tree and the Germans won after a penalty shoot-out. Martin Luther felt the evergreen nature of the tree (clearly, he left it to Mrs Luther to hoover up in mid-January) symbolized the never-failing love of God. When Queen Victoria married the German Prince Albert, he brought with him the custom of the Christmas tree. An engraving of Victoria, complete with crown, and Albert, next to their indoor tree led to the custom becoming popular, even in America after the same engraving was doctored (Albert's moustache and Victoria's crown removed) so the couple looked like the all-American family.
But is it a fair representation of the Christian faith? I wonder. Its not just that most trees these days are artificial - and there is something about artificial trees, like artificial flowers, that rankles with me - and about as far removed from nature as is possible to be. Faith, the Christian life, is not evergreen. We live. We die. For us, Christmas must lead to Good Friday. And Advent has its true meaning in this ambiguity, this double-edged nature to our faith: a faith that has at its heart not immortality but resurrection, not plastic flowers that never wilt or trees that never shed their leaves but the real nature, God's nature that promises first death and then resurrection. There are, we believe, two Advents, and in this "not yet" time Christians can only look and hope to the future, and the Tree of Life at the centre of God's new creation.
My favourite tree has to be what has become known as "The Mother Larch" in the grounds of Dunkeld Cathedral. I like it because it is everything faith, and Advent, is about. At this time of year, every year, the larch tree dies. It is stripped of its glory, its branches bare (unique among conifers) and to all intents and purposes it is dead. It is, to paraphrase Monty Python, an ex-tree: until March or April where the larch bursts into life again. Love has come again, like wheat that springeth green. "The Mother Larch" has been repeating the same annual miracle for the last 260 years now. It was planted there by the second Duke of Atholl, who knew a business opportunity when he saw one - larch trees could flourish where not even sheep would graze, and the timber was hard enough for ships for the British navy. What better tree than the enduring but fragile Mother Larch, from which most British larches are descended, to truly tell us what this season is about?
Praise God for the larch! Praise God that our life is deciduous, not evergreen, that every season in turn will hold its sway. Praise God for His Second Advent, when Christ will complete what he has begun, and death will be no more!