If you planted a tree for every tree mentioned between Genesis and Revelation, you would easily end up planting quite a large forest.
You’ll find a bush that burns without burning up, a court held underneath palm trees. You’ll find Jesus in a garden hours before his death and mistaken as a gardener hours after his resurrection. Trees represent wisdom, life, and major figures throughout the story of the Gospel. They are signposts towards things to come.
And since trees are widely used to celebrate Christmas, there’s got to be some significance there, right?
Trees, and at least tree products, play a particularly important role in Jesus’ early life. There was his birth in a manger. His early years, working alongside Joseph as a carpenter, were lived in the company of wood, sawdust, and woodworking tools.
But trees are not just a stage prop in the story of the Gospel. They actually symbolize two major turning points for God’s relationship with the Earth.
The Tree of Life and the Little Tree
The Tree of Life, introduced in Genesis, is at the center of the Garden of Eden. It stands for life as it should be, where humanity and nature are in a harmonious relationship with God. We remember how interwoven we are meant to be every time we rediscover how interconnected all forms of life are on the earth. Out of Love, God designed all of creation to work as a system.
When humans ate fruit from the wrong tree, it marked a rejection of the Tree of Life, looking for purpose and satisfaction elsewhere. The act of rebellion resulted in a fractured relationship between God and his creation. The world as we know it carries many of these effects, including famine, conflict, and prejudice.
Isaiah points to the Messiah’s arrival as the return of a little tree, unremarkable in nature, growing out of a barren ground.
“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2) This one of many Christmas signposts.
Jesus’ birth, in the unremarkable town of Nazareth, marked the return of the Tree of Life.
Trees are used to communicate God’s glory
Throughout different parts of scripture, trees are personified. They express joy, clap their hands, and declare the glory of God. To a person without the means of learning about God from a church or preacher, trees can still begin to stir up a sense of God’s presence.
The parallels of trees that run throughout the story of the Gospel remind us of an important truth. The events that flow from Genesis to Revelation are not merely a collection or a highlight reel of events, but that they are part of a greater story. They are part of the story where God reconciles Creation to himself.
The significance of Christmas as part of this story is central. Christ’s sacrifice (on a cross made from tree, it’s worth noting) reminds us that God is in the business of calling all people and all of creation back to him. We are called back towards the Tree of Life- a community of harmony and peace.
We get to participate in God’s plan to redeem and restore Creation. What better time than Christmas to remember this?