If you’re are a regular visitor to Greenwich Point, you’ll know that, during the season of Epiphany, this fantastic natural preserve is enhanced by the presence of a growing mountain of Christmas trees. Beginning as a small gathering on the Feast of St Stephen, I’ve watched the phenomenon grow by the side of my regular running route. Along with the lengthening days and increasing solar elevation, this slowly increasing organic mass serves as a reliable guide to our steady journey, from Christmas through Epiphany, via Candlemas into Lent.
Stripped of all their finery, I cannot help thinking that these once elegant trees possess a slight air of indignation. Perhaps they caught a glimpse of paradise in their bedecked states, basking in the tinsel-lit radiance of their cozy New England parlors. And now summarily stripped and cruelly tossed aside, they are left to fend for themselves in salty spray and winter gale. As the calendar turns from the Star in the East towards the grey skies of Lent, reality becomes painfully clear: these trees were destined to die the moment they entered our lives.
But that’s not the end of the story. Across the country, Christmas trees are chipped to provide mulch and compost. They are used to stabilize rivers and prevent beachfront erosion. They are sunk in lakes to provide shelter for fish and habitats for insects. They provide enough oxygen nationally for the use of 9 million people. They feed the plants of Greenwich, and stabilize the soil in our parks. As it turns out, they give life in so many different ways.
And that, for me, is the whole point of Christmas and Epiphany. Little by little, the babe of the cradle becomes the man of the cross. By drawing closer to Christ’s suffering and death, we more clearly understand the meaning of his incarnation. As Paul says in Philippians, Christ “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but…humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Ultimately, God’s Christmas tree is the cross. And yet through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the light that it sheds shines in the darkness, long after the tree is gone.