YOU know, I don’t even know why there’s a Christmas tree in my living room. We’ve had one each year—it’s just what we do. But I like it… the smell of pine, the glow of the lights, the memories of mom decorating…
Beyond an elaborate parking stall for gifts, meaning for our Christmas tree began to emerge while at Mass the other day….
The tree is a symbol of life—the spiritual interior life. Without the Living Waters of Grace, the tree dies. Prayer is the roots which draw these waters into the soul. Without prayer, the heart dries up.
Prayer is the life of the new heart. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2697
It is through obedience that the branches grow. The more obedient we are to the Lord’s Word, the taller we become reaching heavenward, and the more beautiful and expansive the interior life becomes.
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
The ornaments are those virtues which begin to decorate our exterior through a consistent life of prayer and obedience drawing from the Living Waters. These ornaments hang by a little string called humility. Without this string, often cut by the lethal blade of pride, virtue falls to the ground smashing into little pieces of self-love.
Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance. —St. Augustine
The lights which adorn our hearts are our good deeds: concrete acts of love and service. For without the light of love, the spiritual life remains in darkness, the branches appear lifeless and rigid, the virtues colorless and hidden. Yes, we see many trees decorated throughout the year at Thanksgiving or other times. But what distinguishes the Christmas Tree is its lights.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)
Lastly, the star on top of the tree is a symbol of Mary. Pope John Paul II called Our Lady of Guadalupe "The Star of the New Evangelization". Yes, she is the star "full of grace" which shows us what evangelization looks like by her humility, obedience, love, and complete configuration to Jesus. She is the morning star which heralds the Dawn, the first and second coming of the Son of God.
And she is our spiritual Mother, helping to direct our life in God. For those who welcome her as their Mother, she is brightly lit, a sure guide and focal point. But to those who do not recognize her, she is dim… like the hidden stars in our galaxy, unperceived by the naked spiritual eye, but still very present.
There is another symbol which this Advent tree can take on, and it is that of the Church.
Think of the roots as Jesus, and the Spirit flowing through Him to us. The branches of the tree are the various churches throughout the whole world. The needles are the the followers of Christ… many of them hidden, their growth unnoticed. They are the "poor in spirit", those souls to whom the beatitude of the Kingdom will belong.
The lights are those Saints whom God has raised up at certain times in history to illuminate those needles around them, but also to give a new color, a new beauty to the Church.
The ornaments are those works of love, particularly for those who are sick, in prison, hungry and naked, both physically and spiritually.
And the Star… it remains our Mother, who in many ways is a symbol of the Church: of her holiness, her poverty, her mandate to carry Jesus into the whole world. As God sent the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost to empower them to bring Jesus to the nations, so too God sent the Holy Spirit to overshadow Mary to bring forth Jesus into time and history. As Mary became the vessel by which the body of Christ was given to the world, so too the Church is that vessel by which the Body of Christ is offered as the Bread of Life. She is the preeminent Tabernacle.
It was her humility and obedience which created the space within her for God. This is the light which shines from this Immaculate Star.
The Christmas tree is a shape which points skyward… heavenward. Our whole spiritual life, both interior and the life of the Church—the branches, the ornaments, the lights, the Star—they all point toward the Father. They are bestowed and ordered toward union with God.
Jesus, the Word of God, became flesh so as to reconcile us with the Father by becoming the Passover Lamb. He came to re-establish our relationship with Abba as His sons and daughters. This is the ultimate meaning of Christmas, and the gift which ever awaits to be opened beneath the tree. Yes, the purpose of the Church and of our own sanctification is to be a sacrament of salvation to the world.
To be bright, shining, towering Christmas trees.