From Christmas Tree Baubles to the Burning Bush

Christmas trees have never really interested me. As a child, I remember our house being decorated with boughs of greenery, holly for the most part, with a small, artificial tree in an obscure corner, remarkable only for its exquisite glass ornaments. At Stanbrook I groaned when, as refectorian, it fell to me to decorate the huge tree in the refectory and even here, where the tree is much smaller, I have always maintained that once I have put the lights up my task is done. A few days ago, however, thanks to a Facebook friend, I had to re-think my ideas.

The connection between a Christmas tree and the Burning Bush is not immediately obvious, but once one begins considering the idea, it becomes more and more entrancing. The fresh greenery, illuminated with points of light, the gracious bending under the weight of a stylized fruitfulness, there is more here to meditate on than meets the eye. It can indeed be an image of the Burning Bush and hence of Mary and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Coptic Orthodox Christians do not celebrate Advent in quite the same way we in the West do, but they do have a series of special hymns sung at Vigils that includes one referring to the Burning Bush and the likeness between it and the Virgin Mary. It is a theme we find frequently in the Fathers. Liturgically, in the West the connection is made explicit in the third Vesper antiphon for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, on 1 January, but otherwise less is made of it than in the Coptic tradition.

One of the Coptic hymns soars to great heights in an attempt to show how Mary carried within her the humanity and divinity of Christ:

The burning bush seen by Moses
the prophet in the wilderness
the fire inside it was aflame
but never consumed or injured it.
The same with the Theotokos
Mary carried the fire of Divinity
nine months in her holy body
without blemishing her virginity.

Hymn of the Burning Bush, Coptic Orthodox Church Kiahk Psalmody

I am beginning to think that, when we put up our Christmas tree on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, we should accompany the act with a prayer, a blessing. The tree, the lights, the baubles are not as insignificant as I once thought them. They are a sacramental which, in their own way, can lead us deeper into the mystery at the heart of our celebration: that God loved the world so much that he sent his own Son, in the likeness of human flesh — flesh taken from Mary, whose consent to be the Mother of God made possible our salvation.


5 thoughts on “From Christmas Tree Baubles to the Burning Bush”

  1. Wow I would have never seen that connection either! Bit of leap for me. But I can see the Coptic Church’s analogy and it’s a beautiful thought of Mary the Theotokos bearing the divine fire within her.

  2. When we were children, and then when we had our own family, our Christmas trees were fresh, fragrant, and pulled home through the snow on a toboggan. We looked forward to decorating them and all that the Advent and Christmas season held in store.

    Now on our own my husband and I have an artificial potted tabletop tree, just the right size for us. We hang ornaments collected over the years, crafted by our children when they were little, others given as gifts from friends and family members, many of whom now sleep with our ancestors. While not expensive, they are nonetheless precious to us and serve as material reminders of relationships past and present. In their own way, they act as sacramentals reminding us we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses and feel connected to them through these objects. When the sun sets, as it does quite early this far north, we switch on the tree lights and are thankful for the additional light the tree provides.

    I suppose the Christmas tree means different things to different people, but for us it brings hope in our resurrection and being reunited with those who’ve gone before us.

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