I saw a headline in the Star News out of Wilmington, NC that the city has nixed the ceremony connected to the lighting of the "World's Largest Living Christmas Tree" this year, a tradition dating back to 1928. Several factors contributed to the decision including construction at the water plant on the site of the tree and budget constraints. But another reality that has been apparent for years is that the Live Oak that is the "World's Largest Living Christmas Tree" is dying, a fact that is readily visible in the photo above. Many years ago a pole had to be added to support Christmas lights that the dying upper branches could no longer bear.
The news of the decision to cancel this year's ceremony aroused a bit of sadness in me. When my daughters were younger, we attended that ceremony numerous times. To this day I try to get by to see the lighted tree every year around Christmas time.
Really I think it is the sight of the tree in the daylight that brings more sadness than the cancelling of the ceremony. I haven't attended the ceremony in years. In the night, when I always see the dying tree, the darkness hides the dead branches to an extent. But the sight of the tree in daylight is a bit depressing. Were it not for the history connected to the tree I doubt anyone these days would choose it to be decorated for Christmas.
But another thought struck me that might remove some of the sadness of the sight of a dying Christmas tree. Perhaps the oak could be viewed in the Advent tradition of the Jesse Tree. Advent is the four-week period before Christmas that many Christians observe as a expectant season of celebrating the first coming of Christ and anticipating his return.
The tradition of the Jesse Tree is based on the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 11:1: "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit" (TNIV). Jesse was the Father of David, and Jesus, the Messiah, came from the line of David. Christ, then, is the shoot from the stump of Jesse. The passage is a portrait of the greatest hope arising from what appears to be utter hopelessness.
In keeping with this imagery, a Jesse Tree is a dead, bare branch typically secured in sand or rocks. The ornaments are all based on the Old Testament to symbolize the "roots" of Jesus. So the Jesse Tree is a dead tree adorned with symbols of biblical promises. It serves to remind Christ-followers that, though our world may at times seem hopeless, through Christ, we always possess a living hope (1 Peter 1:3).
I'm sorry to see the World's Largest Living Christmas Tree in its dying state. Yet, even though it may be a mere shadow of its former glory, it can still be a symbol of hope. If the prophet could see evidence of hope in a tree stump, can't a decorated, dying tree help us to remember not only the cross but an empty tomb?
I'm thinking about adding a Jesse Tree to our Advent tradition this year.