Christmas Eve

Preached: December 24, 2007

Trees and Peace
Selected Passages

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus, the Babe of Bethlehem.

Dear fellow worshipers of our new-born King:

No one knows for sure the origin of the Christmas tree. Some trace it back to Germanic paganism. Trees certainly had a place in their religion. Some credit St. Boniface in the 700's with using the evergreen tree as a symbol of Christ in his missionary work among Germanic tribes. Some claim Martin Luther started putting candle lights on the tree. But regardless of how our customs developed, what does the Christmas tree make you think of?

Although Scripture does not connect a tree with Jesus birth, it does talk about two different trees that teach us what Christmas is all about. Let's think about those two tree tonight as we look at the Christmas tree.

The first tree was at the center of the Garden of Eden: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from it. Here is how they could worship the Lord with love and thanks as they gladly obeyed his command not to eat.

But Satan used that tree to tempt Eve. Satan plants doubts. “Did God really say?” Satan lures Eve to distrust God's motives and to lust for power. “You won't die, but you will be like God, if you eat from it.” And where was Adam as this all happened? Standing right there, so that when Eve ate he did too.

They ruined God's perfect creation. Instead of perfect peace as they lived in harmony with one another, they now blamed each other. Instead of perfect peace with God, they ran and hid from him.

And we, in every sense, are their children. That first tree reminds us of the warfare we were born into. We warred against God, for we began life without any good in us, filled with evil desires, hating God and fighting against him.

We still see the ravages of that war in our lives. Grudges and hurt feelings rob us of peace. Confrontational words and thoughtless actions and blaming games destroy peace. Anger, revenge, and the desire for self-justification work to prevent any reconciliation. How often the lack of peace curses our personal relationships even with our closest family and our blood-bought brothers and sisters in Christ, our fellow Christians.

That lack of peace with those around us is but a symptom of the lack of peace with God. How can anyone who has done even just one wrong have peace with the perfectly holy God? How can we stand before him in anything but terror since his Law condemns us to death and damns us to the torture of hell? “‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked’” (Isaiah 57:21 NIV).

That first tree convicts us of our peace-destroying sinfulness.

But the second tree -- how different that is! It is much uglier than that first tree set in paradise. It's branches have been stripped off. A crossbar has been nailed to it. And on it hangs the bloody body of that man, who as a newborn baby was laid in a manger.

The Apostle Peter writes, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 NIV). Through his death on the cross Jesus took away your sins. And where sin is forgiven, there is peace, peace with God.

The Apostle Paul writes, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19 NIV). He counted them against Jesus instead and counted Jesus' sinless life as yours, so that you have peace. Yes, even as you stand before the holy God, you have peace through faith in Jesus. For since God raised Jesus from the dead, you are justified. Through faith you stand before God acquitted, declared not guilty, not because you're innocent but because Jesus' record counts for you and your sins have been erased from the evidence. That's what faith believes. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

No wonder the angels sang “peace on earth” when Jesus was born. The only One who could bring us peace had come into the world. God himself, the eternal Son of the Father, became flesh and blood and was born one of us. As the God-man he sacrificed himself on the tree of the cross to bring you peace

This peace you have with God through faith in Jesus and his cross enables you and me to live at peace with others. Why stir up conflict with others even if they wrong you? Why harbor ill will and resentment? Why let such unrest fester in your heart and mind? Rather, forgive, even as God in Christ has forgiven you. And that power to forgive flows from that peace with God that is yours through faith in Christ Jesus. For since you have peace with God, what does it matter what others say or do against you. Even if you could prove to all that they are wrong and you are right, that does not bring you any more peace that what you already have through faith in the forgiveness that Jesus was born to bring you.

Now God's truth can not be compromised, for that would destroy the peace with God that Jesus brings us. And when we stand up for God's truth others may accuse us of breaking the peace. But it's not us, rather it's the false teaching that disturbs the peace. However when it comes to our own wants and likes and opinions and desires for self-justification, then compromise, give in, turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, do anything and everything for the sake of peace.

So as you look at the Christmas tree think of these other two trees. The first that robbed us of peace, so that we needed our God, the Peace-maker, to come into our world to save us from our sins; the second that brought you peace when the Babe of the Bethlehem was crucified on it. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313