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Christ is All Around Us

Posted on 24 Dec 2016

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2016

Luke 2:1-20

Psalm 96

Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman


O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!

Thy leaves are so unchanging;

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!

Thy leaves are so unchanging;

Not only green when summer’s here,

But also when ’tis cold and drear.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!

Thy leaves are so unchanging!


The Christmas tree has long been a favorite part of Christmas, but this tradition did not begin with the Christians. Originally, it was the Romans and the Germanic tribes of Northern Europe who brought evergreen branches inside to celebrate the winter solstice.

Celebrating the winter solstice is a tradition that goes back thousands of years before the birth of Christ. The shortest day of the year, the darkest day of the year, was also the time that beer and wine made in the summer were ready to be drunk and the time when there was an abundance of meat because livestock were butchered so they would not have to be fed through the long winter months. When you add in that with each new day, the sunlight would increase, it seemed a perfect time, to ancient tribes, to celebrate the “rebirth” of the sun, to celebrate the light in the darkness of winter.


The winter solstice traditions of lighting candles and bringing evergreen branches inside were clearly adopted by early Christians because by the second century AD, the Christian writer, Tertullian, “complained that too many fellow-Christians had copied the Pagan practice of adorning their houses with lamps and with wreathes of laurel at Christmas time.” (1)

Complained might be too gentle of a word. He actually considered it idolatry saying, “You are a light of the world, and a tree ever green. If you have renounced temples, make not your own gate a temple.”(2)


We can certainly understand Tertullian and others who seek to preserve the purity of our faith, who exhort us to be true to the Way of Christ and not swayed by idols or practices that do not honor God.   On the other hand…..the church fathers had already dated Christ’s birth as December 25th, so I can understand how Christians began to make connections with these “pagan” winter celebrations.

After all, the pagans were celebrating the rebirth of the sun. As Christians, we celebrate the birth of the Son. The pagans were celebrating the light during a time of deep darkness. As Christians, we know that Jesus is the light of the world, the fulfillment of God’s hope to a people who were walking in deep darkness (Isaiah 9:2), and the “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

It’s no surprise that early Christians looked around and saw Jesus, the light of the world, in the candles lit for the winter solstice.

It seems only natural that they saw the evergreen branches of holly, mistletoe, and fir, bright and alive in the midst of winter, and were reminded of Jesus’ eternal presence with us and of Christ’s promise of eternal life to his followers.

And the gifts that Roman children gave to others for the celebration of Saturn must have reminded them of the gifts the Magi brought to the baby Jesus, of the miraculous gift God gave to us in the form of the Christ child.


Because these are such beloved Christmas traditions, your modern mind might be hard pressed to see how evergreen boughs, candles, and gift giving could be idolatrous. How could these things distract us from God and the way of Jesus Christ? In Tertullian’s mind, though, it was a short journey from adorning your house with evergreen branches to worshipping the Roman gods.

Tertullian’s concern for us to stay true to the way of Jesus Christ, to be faithful in our worship of God, was similar to those who encourage us to “Keep Christ in Christmas”.


As a follower of Jesus Christ, as a minister of the good news, I honor the intention and desire to keep us true to the Way of Jesus Christ.

I don’t think we need to worry about ‘Keeping Christ in Christmas’ though. God is the Creator and Ruler of the universe. “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised…Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.” (Psalm 96:4, 6) God created all; God is in all. There is no part of our lives, no part of our world in which God is not present. God is the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”. (Isaiah 9) God is all powerful, mighty and wondrous beyond words. There is nothing God cannot do.


And the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, the Holy One who made the universe and all that dwells within it, chose to do the most incredible thing. God shed God’s majesty and power and chose to take the form of a vulnerable, tiny child. Born to peasant parents; born in a stable; Christ’s birth announced first to lowly shepherds. God chose to shed God’s majesty and power – all to be with us, to show us the depth of God’s love for us.

Immanuel – God with us. On this holy night, we celebrate that God is truly with us.


Is it any wonder that we see God’s presence everywhere?

In the celestial and in the mundane?

In the moon and stars and in the twinkling of Christmas lights?

In this holy communion meal and in the daily sandwich bread we eat?

In the eternal Word of God and in the evergreen Christmas tree?

In the gifts of love we give to others and in the gift of the Christ child?


God’s love is all around us. God’s presence is always with us. Thanks be to God for the Christ child, Emmanuel, God with us. And thanks be to God for all of the signs and symbols that remind us daily that God loves us and that Christ is always with us.





(2) Tertullian of Carthage, “On Idolatry”