It’s time again to say, “Merry Christmas!” That is, “A God-blessed Christmas to you!” In recent months I’ve written about the glory of Northern California with its mountains, Redwood trees, and the Smith River. I’ve written about my dangerous adventure in that river in contrast to the “peace like a river” described in Scripture. We’ve explored Psalm 136, the giving of thanks, and the exclamation of hallelujah. As the Christmas season culminates, this is a good time to look at Psalm 1 (as I promised) and think about trees. D. L. Moody so apply noted, “All the Lord’s trees are evergreen.”
Psalm 1: 1-3 (ESV) reads as follows:
1Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The blessed person, compared to a tree, discovers that blessing is found in the proper location. Location, location, location.
Composed of six verses in total, this Psalm contrasts the good/godly person located near the streams, drinking in its life, with the bad/wicked person located near the discontents, unbelievers, and scorners, wafting in their destructive attitudes. Location, location, location. In this post we’ll focus on the trees by the waters.
The same word translated “blessed” in Psalm 1:1 is employed in Job 5:17, Psalm 2:12, and Psalm 119:1. “Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty” (Job 5:17, NASB). Here the word is translated as happy. I don’t think any of us naturally find discipline or reproof as sources of happiness. Only from a spiritual perspective do we find happiness here — in the fruit of correction. It is interesting that the translators chose “happy” instead of “blessed” in this case, but through reproof Job teaches us that blessing and happiness will follow.
Psalm 2:12b (NASB) claims, “How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!” Psalm 119:1 introduces the longest chapter of the Bible which is a mediation on the Word of God. This verse says, “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law [torah, instruction] of the LORD.”
Psalm 1:1 and Psalm 119:1, both introductory verses, parallel and echo each other! To be blessed is to be satisfied in goodness, righteousness, purity — all those perfections beyond us but available in Christ — through his goodness, righteousness, purity, and perfection placed in our account — through His salvation. For by grace we are saved through faith, the gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9).
Psalm 1 compares this blessedness in the Lord to a tree planted by
streams. The water nourishes, strengthens, and brings joy to the tree. The tree is resilient, prospers, and bears fruit, furthering the tree’s sense of satisfaction and joy. Yes, the tree is blessed. Not only does the tree bear fruit in its season (a fascinating, encouraging thought worth further research/meditation), but the tree’s leaves also do not wither!
Yes, Moody is right that the Lord’s children are like evergreen trees — ever green, never withering.
Of course, I do feel that I wither at times. My body closes down and I wither. My cousin from Glendale (suburb of Phoenix) visited for several days last week. She reads me better than almost anyone close to me does. It’s amazing. She sees in my eyes and hears in my voice when I start to wither — almost as quickly as I’m reading myself. Often when I’m with people and I become aware that I’ve had my limit, I am also aware that those around me tend to be clueless to my limits. They become aware when I start to take steps to withdraw myself. Not Sherrie. She intervenes before I’m “over the cliff.” When my chronic conditions cause me to close down, am I then not one of the Lord’s evergreens?
I do not know why God has allowed me to be so limited by my health. Long ago I quit wasting my time and energy with why questions concerning this. I do know that when I can’t handle noise or being with people or when my pain closes me down, or when fatigue unplugs me, I know that I am as close to the Lord as I ever was at my best, maybe even closer. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). “Very present” is closer than space. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (II Corinthians 4:16, NIV). Thus, I see that I am an evergreen — inwardly. It is the inward being, the eternal self, that is evergreen.
This brings us to Christmas and our brilliant Christmas trees! You have probably heard various stories of the origins of the Christmas tree. (For a quick overview, check out http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/december/why-do-we-have-christmas-trees.html). Martin Luther is often credited as a source. Many Christians have been concerned about its pagan roots (which includes more than the Christmas tree itself).
I am happy to include the Christmas tree as a festive reminder of the meaning we give the season — the birth of Christ, our Savior. I am happy and blessed to consider that branching through the arch of human history are trees: from the trees in the Garden of Eden, to the tree on which Christ died, to the resilient evergreen believers can be, to the burgeoning fruitful Tree of Life in the coming New Heavens and New Earth described in the closing chapter of the holy Scriptures. A ha!! Another connection! Location, location, location! Each of these settings places the trees near water/rivers. That is, except for Christ’s Calvary cross which was a curse fulfilled to conquer the curse. The curse finds no nourishment in rivers, for curses destroy. Yet, streaming through the Scriptures from beginning to end are themes of trees well watered!
Our Christmas trees can remind us of the key trees of Scripture, signposts offering direction to life. First, we remember the two, original trees identified in the Bible: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, both in Eden, out of which flowed a river that divided into four rivers to water the garden (Genesis 2:9-10). The first was a tree of hope. The second, a tree of testing. The test? Failed.
The cross. The tree on which Christ died fulfilled the promise of Genesis 3:15. Christ passed the test. This tree was not fed by a river. It is a tree of irony: God– the Judge, the Lover, enduring the sentence of the judged, the beloved; the death machine– shame and reproach birthing joy: Christ, for the joy set before Him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). “He was wounded for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5).
The tree of hope reappears in the last chapter of the amazing story of Scripture. Considering that the Scriptures were written over a period of at least 1500 years by over 40 human authors from Mesopotamia, to Canaan/Israel, to Egypt and Rome, I’m at first astounded and then delighted at the beautiful and ornate intertwining of themes and messages. So, here’s how the last biblical chapter begins (Revelation 22:1-5, ESV, with italics added for emphasis):
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.
4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light,
and they will reign forever and ever.
When we consider the biblical usage of the theme of trees (fed by nearby rivers/waters, glistening in the sun and someday in the pure light of God Himself), we can re-imagine our own lighted, glowing Christmas trees in such ways as to help us meditate upon God’s wise and trustworthy Hand in shaping our lives and all history for ultimate good, blessing, and glory. Indeed, “O Christmas Tree, how steadfast [evergreen] are your branches!” The following translation of “O Tannenbaum” fits well this perspective:
1) O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How steadfast are your branches!
Your boughs are green in summer’s clime
and through the snows of winter-time.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How steadfast are your branches!
2) O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, What happiness [blessing] befalls me
When oft at joyous Christmastime
Your form inspires my song and rhyme.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, what happiness befalls me.
3) O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, Your boughs can teach a lesson
That constant faith and hope sublime
Lend strength and comfort through all time.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, Your boughs can teach a lesson.
And to you, my dear readers, “A Blessed Christmas!” May you be blessed, “like a tree firmly planted by streams of water. . . . “(Psalm 1:3).
Merry Christmas, Karen and Paul…….I can associate with the Evergreens……That’s why I planted about a dozen white pine and cedar trees off our back deck five years or so ago……We love to see the green all year here in east central Ohio……Happy New Year 2017!