Sunday, December 24, 2006

Your place on the Tree (Vigil of Christmas)

I’m going to talk to you about the Christmas Tree.

In Genesis, the first book of the Bible,
we have the story of the Garden,
and two, particular trees:
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad,
and the Tree of Life.

We recall that Adam and Eve disobeyed God,
and ate from the wrong tree:
for them, the Tree of Knowledge
became the Tree of Death,
and they were not allowed to eat
from the Tree of Life.

This story, and these ideas,
have always fired the imagination of Christians.
Priests and bishops have talked about them,
at Mass, from early on.

One reason is that the Bible tells us
about yet another Tree—the Cross!
The Cross was made of wood; and they called it a tree.

The connection is this:
because Adam and Eve made a sinful choice,
Jesus came as the second Adam,
and he chose the Cross—the Tree of Death—
and he made it, for us, the Tree of Life.

Do you know when Christians would hear about this?
At Mass…on Christmas Day!

What’s more, over the years,
Christians made artwork
that depicted Adam and Eve, and the Tree,
with its colorful fruit!

Around the year 1000, people in Germany
began putting on religious plays.
And on December 24th, they would have a play
about Adam and Eve.

The main prop on stage was a tree—
a fir tree, the only tree still green in December.

There is another story about this,
and that is the story of St. Boniface.

St. Boniface went to Germany in the 600s
to proclaim Christ, and he found people
whose worship of false gods was connected to trees.

To demonstrate their gods were false,
Boniface cut down a great Oak tree
that they considered sacred.
The oak knocked down many other trees—
but a small sapling of a fir tree remained.

It’s not clear what time of year this happened,
but some claim it happened…in December.

Now, where did the decorations come from?
Remember the play I mentioned?
They decorated the tree with fruit: apples.

But because they were not only recalling
the Tree of Death—with it’s forbidden fruit—
they were also thinking of the Tree of Life—
whose fruit gave eternal life.
But they only had one tree,
because Jesus, dying on the Cross,
made the Tree of Death into the Tree of Life.

So you know what else
they decorated the tree with?
Bread! Round wafers of bread…
that looked just like what we receive at Mass:
The Holy Eucharist!

The Eucharist is the “fruit” of the Cross—
the Eucharist is the “fruit” Jesus gives us,
that enables us to live forever!

Can you picture that “Paradise Tree,” now?
Decorated with apples—
red, and maybe green and yellow?
Also decorated with round,
white circles of bread?

Many years later, the plays went in the wrong direction,
and in the 1400s, the Church put a stop to them.

But, people loved the Paradise Tree;
so they started putting them up in their homes.
Over time, they added other decorations:
other fruit, nuts and candies,
and the wafers of bread became pastries.

Much later, someone invented glass ornaments,
and we still use them.
But notice even now,
we still have ornaments shaped like…fruit!

You still find food on the Tree: candy, chocolate,
garland made of popcorn and berries.

There’s one more connection to a tree
mentioned in Scripture—
we heard about it in the Gospel:
a family Tree!

We just heard a long list of names—
the family tree that connects Abraham to Jesus.

Why do we hear that Gospel on Christmas Eve?
Because in becoming human, becoming a baby,
Jesus did two things at the same time:
He became part of our, human, family tree;
and he made it possible for us
to become part of his, supernatural family!

Through faith in Jesus Christ,
when we are baptized,
we are “born again”—into a new family.

That family tree in the Gospel seemed long—
but imagine trying to list all the people
who are part of God’s Family,
because they believe in Jesus?
The list would go on…forever!

By accepting Jesus, and following Jesus,
you and I become part of that Family Tree.
God has a Tree, too—and he decorates his Tree
with all that is precious to him: each one of us!

Together with all the angels and saints,
you and I are the priceless treasures,
which Jesus gained by his dying and rising,
to give to his Father in heaven,
to decorate the heavenly Christmas Tree!


Anonymous said...

Your Homily was wonderful as always. I hope you are feeling better and made it through the other two masses. Merry Christmas to you. You are always in our prayers.

Rachel said...

I confess I'm now very curious about the "wrong direction" the plays went in in the 1400's... there's my human nature seizing on the one bad thing... But anyway, I loved the history lesson in that homily!