By Wendy Custer
My family has made a special tradition each Christmas season of cutting our own tree. Every year there is a disagreement between my husband, Jerry, and our oldest son, Carter. Carter grew up having a White Pine Christmas tree and Jerry despises White Pines. When we got married and joined our families five years ago, the dispute began! Some years Jerry wins and others he gives in to Carter's wishes. This year, since our regular farm was no longer in business, we found a new tree farm. On the way to find the perfect Christmas tree, the old discussion made its way into the conversation.
"What kind of trees do they have?" Carter quizzed.
Jerry quickly returned, "Real Christmas trees!"
"White pines are Christmas trees!"
Always trying to make sense of Jerry's sarcastic reasoning, Carter pressed further. "By false trees, do you mean they are deceiving?"
Jerry paused, now serious, "Exactly! White Pines always look so full and pretty, and they can be nicely shaped, but when you hang a heavy ornament on one of their branches, it can't support the weight. The others trees, like a Scotch Pine for instance, have sturdy branches that will hold the weight of the decorations. The White Pine might appear better looking in the field, but you need to determine which tree will be the best once it is decorated.
I sat, quietly listening to their tree debate. In my mind though, I was wondering which tree I more closely resembled. Am I more like the White Pine who is carefully groomed and soft to touch, but unable to bear any additions placed upon my weak branches? Or am I sturdy, like the more prickly varieties that have obvious space between their branches, but solid and ready to hold the gifts bestowed upon me?
Jesus addresses the Pharisees about this very issue. In Matthew 23, Jesus describes this group of religious leaders as men who liked to look good but could not carry the weight of their own commands. They dressed and talked as though they knew it all, but underneath the carefully groomed surface, they were hypocrites. These leaders talked the talk but their hearts were not in it!
God wants us to be real. He gives us guidelines to follow in order to live a godly life, and He asks us to be holy as He is holy, but he does not not want us to play dress up. He would prefer that people are able to see our bare spots so that they will also notice when He fills in that spot with something beautiful!
I don't want to be a false tree like the Pharisees. I hope that, though at times I may be prickly, others will see me as one who is able to stand strong. I want to be able to bear the weight of the gifts God has for me and I want to have space in my life for those gifts to show.
Let us examine ourselves to see how we may be less like a false tree. Let us not simply shape ourselves into something that is pretty in appearance. Instead, let us allow God to add His gifts to our lives in a way that lights up for all to see the glory of God!
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.