I’m kind of a scrooge. I don’t like all the commercial aspects of Christmas. I don’t like all the presents (though I still gratefully receive them) and the cookies and candies (although I still gladly indulge in them). I’m not really into all the Christmasy decorations and stuff.
In fact, this is how bad it is. The people we bought our house from left lights strewn on the fence and in the shrubs. All I have to do is plug them in. But it just doesn’t seem worth the effort.
If it were just up to me, we wouldn’t even have a Christmas tree. I just don’t care. But I do have a wife and kids, so it’s not up to me. But I do insist that if we are going to get a Christmas tree that it be an ugly one. You know, a sort of “Charlie Brown tree.”
The first year we decided to do this, we went to the tree lot and I asked the attendant for the ugliest Christmas tree they had.
“The ugliest?” he attempted to clarify, in obvious disbelief.
“Yep,” I replied. “Give me the ugliest tree you have.”
“Huh. Nobody’s ever asked that before,” he responded, still trying to make sense of the situation.
But as he and I were still talking, his associate accepted the challenge and set out in search of my tree. Shortly thereafter, he came back with two scraggly looking trees.
“How ‘bout one of these?” he asked.
Now these two trees weren’t pretty, but they weren’t ugly. “That’s all you got?” I asked back. “You’ve gotta have something uglier than that.”
The two men looked at each other as if they were sharing a long-kept secret. Then the man I had been talking to motioned with his head to the other and he quickly took off as on a mission.
He came back quickly with the ugliest, scraggliest, most-pathetic excuse for a tree I’d ever seen. It was about four feet tall with only five or six almost-bare branches.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” I exclaimed. “How much?”
“Ten dollars,” the associate responded.
“Ten dollars?!” I echoed back, showing my displeasure with the price. “I’ll give you five.”
The two men looked at each other the way people do when they know they’ve been outwitted by a superior opponent. But the smirks on their faces were replaced when the associate cursed in disgust while the other laughed in response.
“What?” I asked, not understanding the hidden situation.
Then the man who had retrieved the prize responded, “I bet him $10 we wouldn’t sell this thing. You’re paying me five, but now I owe him ten.”
That was the beginning of our ugly Christmas tree tradition 17 years ago.
So why, you ask, do I insist on shattering the Christmas dreams of my children by getting a scraggly, ugly, throw-away weed that nobody else wants?
Because of this:
“My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.” (Isaiah 53:2–12, NLT)
This passage foretells what the LORD’s deliverer will be like. He will not be a rich and powerful king who frees his people with wealth and might, and receives glory by virtue of his spectacular conquests. No, he will be a lowly servant who delivers his people by suffering on their behalf. And he will receive exaltation – not by conquering – but through humiliation.
The LORD’s Servant will receive exaltation through humiliation. He will suffer to set his people free. He will bear their punishment, accepting death, so that they may experience life. He will bear a cross to gain a crown.
There is a scene in The Nativity Story movie that is my favorite.
Click here to watch the 50 second scene (the scene starts at 8:53 in this clip)
Herod learns that the messiah is to be born in Bethlehem and he doesn’t want this to happen because he sees the messiah as a threat to his throne – one that will overthrow the government and set his people free through wealth and might. So Herod tells his officers to be on the lookout for anyone rich and powerful on their way to Bethlehem. So Joseph and Mary are stopped on their pilgrimage to Bethlehem. The guards look at them in their peasant clothing, riding on a little donkey with their meager possessions, and confidently assert, “These aren’t the ones we’re looking for.” They were looking for an earthly king who was qualified by virtue of his position in society to stage a mass coup and overtake his kingdom by force. All the while, the Messiah was riding in the belly of a teenage peasant girl right under their noses.
The world chooses leaders based on their outward appearance – their power, wealth and charisma. But the LORD chooses people based on their heart.
The world chooses the arrogant and self-confident, but the LORD chooses the lowly and meek.
The world exalts the proud, but the LORD exalts the humble.
Jesus Christ, the Savior of the Universe, was not born in a palace, but in a barn.
He was not born into a rich and powerful family, but into a poor and ignoble one.
He did not live his life as a master, but as a servant.
He did not punish or inflict harm, but gladly accepted the punishment of others. And he died, not the death of a hero, but the death of a criminal.
“Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11, NLT)
But Jesus didn’t just pave the path to redemption through his suffering and dying; he modeled the way of living. The Bible tells us that we are to have the same humble-obedient attitude that Jesus had; that we are to put others’ needs before our own and serve each other out of humility and reverence for Christ. It also tells us that if we suffer, we have the prime example to follow – of how to suffer with dignity, not lashing out in anger or retaliation when we are hurt, but remaining a humble servant to the glory of God.
“For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.” (1 Peter 2:21–24, NLT)
But the Bible also tells us something else. It tells us that Christ meets us in our suffering. It is particularly because he has suffered everything we could possibly imagine that he can heal us. It is through his wounds that he endured upon the cross that he heals our wounds.
Christmas is a time of joy and hope, but unfortunately for many, it can also be a time of pain and sorrow. If you are hurting this Christmas season, take comfort in the Suffering Servant who did not lash out at his enemies though he had all the power of God to do so, but instead voluntarily lived the life of a lowly servant, forgiving those who hurt him. Take comfort in the Suffering Servant who has endured all your pain and so much more, and stands here now ready and willing to heal you.
There is a reason I insist on getting an ugly Christmas tree.
The world goes to the tree lot and says, “Give me the biggest and best tree you have. I want the one with the fullest and plushest branches. Give me the best tree money can buy.”
But GOD goes to the tree lot and says, “Give me the smallest, weakest tree you have. I want the ugliest tree you’ve got – the one nobody else wants.”
“Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:27–29, NLT)
The ugly Christmas tree reminds me that
Jesus came not as a master, but as a servant.
He came not as a rich man, but a poor man.
He came not as powerful, but as weak.
He came not as one inflicting punishment, but as one receiving it.
And it reminds me that I must be like him.
God has chosen me, not because I’m worthy, but because I’m not.
God has chosen me, not because I can do anything for him, but precisely because I cannot.
God has chosen me, not because I’m the best-looking tree on the lot, but because I’m the ugliest.
But I am beautiful to Him. And He wants me – even if nobody else does.
The secret of the ugly Christmas tree is that
the rich are poor;
the foolish are wise;
the weak are strong;
the humble are exalted;
the ugly are beautiful; and
the Suffering Servant is LORD OF ALL!