Are There Lies in Your Christmas Tree?
Telling Our Children the True Story
My family loved the moment when we sat in darkness before its light.
Each year my children would hound me about when it was going to happen; they would commiserate with one another about how big it would be. We would load them into the car and go to the place we always went to pick out our family Christmas tree. After weighing everyone’s opinions, we would decide, tie the tree to the roof of our car, and make our way home. That night we would decorate our tree together as a family. After the tree was finally adorned in splendor, we would turn off all the lights, amazed as our tree shone brightly in the darkness.
I love these kinds of moments, because I think as believers, we should be the most celebratory community on earth. We know all the good things that we enjoy and all the family love we experience are sweet and undeserved gifts from our Heavenly Father. But I am concerned that we remember — and that we help our children remember — that while this wonderful holiday season is about a tree, it’s not about the beautiful tree in your living room that you’ve so carefully decorated.
A Different Type of Tree
From the moment of his first breath, the life of that baby in the manger was marching toward a tree. It would not be a tree of beauty or celebration, but of sacrifice and death. It would not stand in someone’s home as part of a seasonal tradition, but would be outside the city walls on a hill of execution. That baby wouldn’t stand before his tree and smile at its beauty, but would be tortured by it, nailed to it among convicts. That tree on the hill was not a symbol of a season, but an instrument of judgment. On that seemingly hopeless hill, that tree of death gave life and hope to humanity.
The Advent season tells a story that will take your breath away. It’s a story about inescapable need, a glorious incarnation, a substitutionary life, an atoning sacrifice, and a victorious resurrection. Only God could write such a story and only God could complete the plot. It’s a story meant to amaze us, humble us, capture us, rescue us, transform us, and cause us to live in wonder and worship. This story provides the only way you can make sense out of your identity and your true need. This story reveals where hope is to be found and points you to the meaning and purpose of your existence.
A False Advent Story
I have no problem with the seasonal stories of sleds, snowmen, gifts, and goodies. Nor do I stand in opposition to singing silly seasonal songs. What I am concerned about is that each Advent season, our children are told a false story.
This false rendition of the Christmas story puts human pleasure at the center. It tells our children to look for life in the creation, rather than in the Creator. It tells them lies about who they are and what they need. It presents a world that needs no tree of sacrifice, no Messiah Lamb, and no life-giving resurrection.
This story forgets that the world our children live in is miserably broken, that it groans waiting for redemption (Romans 8:22–23). This story neglects to tell our children that they are a grave danger to themselves because of the sin that lives inside them. And it surely doesn’t tell them that they were created to intentionally surrender their lives to the greater purposes, plans, and glory of God.
Advent Is a Gift to Parents
The Advent season is a gift to Christian parents because it affords you a focused opportunity to talk to your children about the most profoundly important things in all of life. All of the questions that this season addresses will be asked and answered by your children some way.
- What is this season about?
- Why did Jesus have to come?
- What is it that I need?
- How will those needs be met?
- Who am I and what is my life about?
- How is it that I am supposed to live?
These and many more questions are answered by the miracle of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It’s the story that explains all other stories, the only one that carries the promise of real life and hope for our children.
Tell the Story Over and Over
So parents, this Advent, start preparing your children early and often for the collision of stories that this season has become. Tell them the story of Jesus again and again. Tell them the bad news of why he had to come — because it’s only then that they’ll understand and celebrate what his coming accomplished on their behalf. Tell them that the best gift ever given was the gift of Jesus, because in that gift we are given everything we need.
Make your Advent conversation about a tree, but not the one in your living room. Talk about how that baby in the manger came not to decorate a tree, but to hang on it for their salvation. Remind them that in a world darkened by sin, that tree of sacrifice and salvation shines as a light of eternal hope that will never, ever go out.