God’s Christmas Tree

20 Dec 2020 by Richie Dulin in: Sermons

Call to worship and welcome

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
And on earth peace and goodwill among people!

Good morning!

Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent

<Light the first three candles>

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” 

<Light the fourth candle> 

We light the fourth candle to remind us of Mary. Mary who rejoiced in the Lord, and gave birth to our saviour.

And we today rejoice with Mary at the saving grace shown by God to all people, and we pray that we will follow God as faithfully, as humbly, and as joyfully as Mary did.


Prayers of adoration and confession

Psalm 96

Sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.

Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.

Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    he is to be feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the nations are idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.

Splendour and majesty are before him;
    strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

Give to the Lord, all you families of nations,
    give to the Lord glory and strength.

Give to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering and come into his courts.

Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness;
    tremble before him, all the earth.

Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
    The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.

Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.

Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
    he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples in his faithfulness.


As we honour God whose glory is revealed in a baby lying in a manger, we acknowledge our own humanity, our own failings, and so continue in prayer: 

Heavenly Father,
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart,
and that we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.

We have walked in darkness rather than in light;
Have mercy on us, we pray;
for the sake of our saviour Jesus Christ forgive us all our sins;
cleanse us by your Holy Spirit;
and help us to forgive others;
so that we may worthily serve you in newness of life,
to the glory of your holy name.



Declaration of forgiveness

God is light, in him is no darkness at all.

If we walk in the light, as God is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5, 7) 

Sisters and brothers,
hear the Good News of grace:
In Christ, we are forgiven.

Thanks be to God.

Bible Readings

Isaiah 11:1-5

11 The royal line of David is like a tree that has been cut down; but just as new branches sprout from a stump, so a new king will arise from among David's descendants.

The spirit of the Lord will give him wisdom
    and the knowledge and skill to rule his people.
He will know the Lord's will and honor him,
    and find pleasure in obeying him.
He will not judge by appearance or hearsay;
    he will judge the poor fairly
    and defend the rights of the helpless.
At his command the people will be punished,
    and evil persons will die.
He will rule his people with justice and integrity.


Micah 5:2-5a

The Lord says, “Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are one of the smallest towns in Judah, but out of you I will bring a ruler for Israel, whose family line goes back to ancient times.”

So the Lord will abandon his people to their enemies until the woman who is to give birth has her son. Then those Israelites who are in exile will be reunited with their own people. When he comes, he will rule his people with the strength that comes from the Lord and with the majesty of the Lord God himself. His people will live in safety because people all over the earth will acknowledge his greatness, and he will bring peace.

When the Assyrians invade our country and break through our defenses, we will send our strongest leaders to fight them.


Luke 2:1-12

The Birth of Jesus

At that time Emperor Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Roman Empire. When this first census took place, Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Everyone, then, went to register himself, each to his own hometown.

Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the town of Bethlehem in Judea, the birthplace of King David. Joseph went there because he was a descendant of David. He went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant, and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger—there was no room for them to stay in the inn.

There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. They were terribly afraid, 10 but the angel said to them, “Don't be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. 11 This very day in David's town your Savior was born—Christ the Lord! 12 And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Sermon: God’s Christmas Tree

One thing we noticed while we were away this week was the variety of Christmas decorations around the place – from Santa hats on fenceposts just outside of Nowra, to a snowman made from of a stack of tyres painted white near Bega. But one seemed to be everywhere we went from Batemans Bay through to Cooma – plywood cut-out Santa Clauses, which adorned just about any business that had a suitable awning.

The design seems quite old, and a bit amateurish – but we don’t know how old they are or who made them… or where they all get stored between Christmases. They do seem to be made of good quality plywood though, so it seems they may be around for a few years yet.

In southern NSW, it seems that the plywood cut-out Santa Claus is the most popular symbol of Christmas… but have you ever wondered what the most popular Christmas symbol is?

Some will say it’s tinsel. Some will say it’s Santa Claus. Other contenders include angels, stars, candles, baubles, nativity scenes, snowmen and even the gift wrapped present.

But there’s one I think that stands out from all the others. It is uniquely shaped and has a special relationship with all the other Christmas symbols.

It is the Christmas tree.

Decorating things with evergreen branches in Europe goes back a long way, but the Christmas tree as we know it came about in the 18th century – first in Germany, and then was brought to England first by Queen Charlotte (George III’s wife), and then by Prince Albert (Victoria’s husband). Apparently, pictures of Queen Victoria’s decorated Christmas tree were published in America in the 1840s, which prompted the start of the Christmas tree tradition there… I couldn’t find any record of Australia’s first Christmas trees, but I reckon it would have been about the same time.

Most places that have Christmas decorations will have a Christmas tree. Homes. Schools. Shops. Churches.  Even public spaces – and local councils seem to like erecting particularly large Christmas trees – though in keeping with local council guidelines, they are generally fenced off and adorned with do not climb and other warning signs.

Christmas trees tend to be large. After all, so many of the other Christmas symbols end up being hung from, draped over, or put under the tree, so they need to be large.

Most of the Christmas trees we encounter are artificial – although some of the plastic ones these days look pretty real. In my childhood though, we had a Christmas tree that was almost entirely made of metal. It had a timber trunk – but the branches were steel rods and the leaves were metal tinsel. I have fond memories of that tree, of the hour or so it took to assemble it, and of the small cuts and scrapes I would get on my hands from all those metal components.

Even so-called real trees generally don’t last for too long after Christmas: I often see them poking out of green bins in early January. They’ve been cut off from their roots and put in a metal stand for a few weeks – so there’s not much life left in them.

There are a few people who do use a real live and growing tree and bring it inside every year, and then drag it back out. And do that year on year until it gets unmanageable.

Very few people ever plant a Christmas tree in the ground, and then “do Christmas” around it.

But our reading from Isaiah today, tells us about a God planting a Christmas tree in the ground of Bethlehem, and then all of Christmas happening around it.

In the previous chapters 9 and 10 of Isaiah God said it was His plan to cut down the trees of Assyria and Israel.

Of Assyria He says: “See, the Lord, the LORD Almighty, will lop off the boughs with great power. The lofty trees will be felled, the tall ones will be brought low. He will cut down the forest thickets with an ax; Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One.” Isaiah 10:33-34

And of Israel: “So the LORD will cut off from Israel both head and tail, both palm branch and reed in a single day… Surely wickedness burns like a fire; it consumes briers and thorns, it sets the forest thickets ablaze, so that it rolls upward in a column of smoke.” Isaiah 9:14 & 18

Those trees symbolized the power and majesty of those two nations. And God was telling us that He was going to take an axe and go through the forests of their power. When He finished with them, there would be nothing left of their pride and might.

But then – in the devastation that was left behind he was going to graft a shoot into one of the stumps left behind and grow a new tree – a Christmas tree . “A shoot shall come up from the stump of Jesse; and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Isaiah 11:1

Isaiah’s prophecy has two elements – the stump of Jesse, and the new shoot.

Jesse was the father of David. David of David and Goliath fame. David who would go on to be a great leader and the second king of Israel. David was the youngest son of Jesse, and probably the last person anybody expected to be anointed king (1 Samuel 16:6-13), but he had become a king – and a great king at that.

The people of Israel expected the messiah to come from David’s line.

But the passage of time hadn’t been kind to the house of David… it had become a figurative stump. Yet out of this root there would spring a shoot which would grow up into the expected righteous branch (Jeremiah 23:5) - and Isaiah says that the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.

Of course, this is not Isaiah’s only prophecy about the coming messiah – back in chapter Isaiah 7 we learn that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a son and we would call His name Immanuel. Then in chapter 9 that God told us this child would minister in Galilee and that He would be a great ruler and leader of His people. And that this Messiah would be a light to the people walking in darkness.

And now here in Isaiah 11 we’re told this Messiah would be like a great tree growing out of the stump of Jesse.

Messiah is the Hebrew word for ‘anointed one’, and the Greek translation which we know so well from the new testament is ‘Christ’

So in Chapter 11, Isaiah is telling us that, effectively, God was going to plant a Christmas tree in Bethlehem.

But God’s Christmas tree isn’t a Christmas tree like most of those we know today. Not given pride of place for a couple of weeks and then either thrown away or put away in a cupboard for another year.

God’s Christmas tree isn’t evergreen - it is ever-present.

Because God’s Christmas tree is Jesus.

So, the tree God planted in Bethlehem became an important tree – a tree whose importance goes far beyond Bethlehem.

We’ve heard in our readings today, two old testament prophecies concerning the messiah – the other one from the prophet Micah “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephratha, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule Israel” and this one from Isaiah “A shoot shall come up from the stump of Jesse”.

We can see that they’ve both been fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus was born in Bethlehem… he was born in the line of David (the stump of Jesse).

And along with those there are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming Messiah - all of which were fulfilled in Jesus.

It isn’t obvious in the NRSV translation which we typically use here at Carlingford, but if we turn to some other translations – or if you’re Hebrew scholar you will see it too – the branch that Isaiah talks about is a growing, productive branch.

For instance, the NIV translation gives us “From his roots a branch will bear fruit”

But the Christmas trees we know don’t usually bear fruit!

In fact, they’re usually either dead or artificial, so we have to hang whatever fruit they may have from their branches.

But the tree God planted in Bethlehem - this Messiah who was to come - this tree would bear fruit. And the next few verses of Isaiah after the reading tell us about that fruit:

“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (11:6-9)

There are people who say this prophecy is a literal. They believe a day is coming when wolves will literally lie down beside literal lambs, and children could play with cobras and not get hurt.

Well, I guess that might happen someday… but I don’t think that’s what this prophecy is about.

I think it’s about Jesus changing the accepted order of the world. Solving the problems and the pain and the hurt of the world.

Jesus bringing hope and joy and peace and love to a world of despair and hopelessness and sadness and conflict.

In Jesus coming into the world, born in that stable in Bethlehem, becoming God’s Christmas tree, he brings us hope and joy and peace and love. The things that we remind ourselves of in our advent candles.

We know from the gospel accounts of course, that there were people who sought to cut down God’s Christmas tree – they conspired against Jesus, they beat him, they humiliated him, they nailed him to a cross, and they killed him.

But they couldn’t overcome him, and he rose again.

And God’s Christmas tree still stands today. And the fruit of God’s Christmas tree – hope and joy and peace and love is still there for each one of us.

In our homes, most of us will have Christmas trees decorated with lights, and tinsel and bells and baubles and all the rest of it - and that’s good. But those trees are either dead or artificial. And when the season passes, they’ll be thrown away or stored in boxes.

But God’s Christmas tree is a living tree. And that’s the one we need in our homes. And in our lives and in our hearts. Because that tree is Jesus.


Prayers of Intercession

Gracious and loving Lord,

We give thanks that we can meet together without fear or threat, to worship you, to praise you and to bring our prayers to you.

While large parts of the world celebrate Christmas in the cold and darkness of winter, here in Australia we enjoy the summer and with it the chance to thank you for the metaphorical sunshine that Jesus brought to the world.

We pray Lord, that you will continue to support and inspire our Minister Richie as he plans our worship services and that you will be present with him as he leads us in our worship together. We ask, too, that you support all of those people who take an active role in our worship services and pray that you will remind us it is not too late to put our name on the rosters to help lighten the load for everyone.

Help us find the time and the peace to think about what a church is. Help us to unravel in our mind the reasons that a church exists at a particular place, why do people join a particular congregation, why do they keep attending. Ask us Lord, if we should do more than participate in worship each week, more that keep in touch with our church friends and contribute to keeping what we have going? Get us thinking Lord; is there more to being a church? Help us Lord, we pray, to find a way to talk with our friends about church, what it means to us and what role does it play in our local community? Inspire us, Lord, to look into our local community and see how Christians could  play a role in helping those who are struggling with life in general, let alone finding the where withal to keep up with what so many aspects of Christmas have become. Inspire us Lord, to look for ways that we can bring the sunshine of your love into the lives of those who really need it.

Lord, we pray for our Church Council and our JNC that they will hear Your will clearly as they find a path into the future for our church.

While our Governments take their summer recess, now is a good time, Lord, while their heads are not so full of their political games, for those in power to be reminded that it is their duty to shine some sunlight into the lives of those living in shadow. We ask that the members of our parliaments and governments, while they enjoy their summer holidays, can find renewed enthusiasm to take away the things creating those shadows and support the shining of your sunlight. Your love is like the direct sun shine, and our actions can be like reflectors and refractors.

When so much of our society is getting excited about the prospect of travelling to meet loved ones again, we pray you will remind us that Christmas is also a time that can magnify the feelings of loneliness that many people suffer. Nobody needs a smile as much as the person who doesn’t have one to give. We ask that the sunshine of your love will inspire and energise the efforts of so many people and organisations who are working to support the lonely at this time.

In our own lives, Christmas can be a time when we reflect on the year that has almost passed, the milestones, the happy times and the sad. We ask that our reflections will be illuminated with your love, giving thanks for all the wonderful things we enjoy and supporting us as we lament the sadder times.

Gracious and loving lord, shine the warmth of your loving sunshine onto those who are ill, in mind, in body or in spirit. We remember now anyone known to us who is in special need of our prayers, and name them in a few moments of silence ……. We pray especially for the Lyle Family.

Help all of these folk to know your direct sunshine and to keep their faces towards you, so the shadows might fall behind them. Lord, remind us all of the need to support them, by reflecting the light of your love into their lives.

Gracious and loving God, we ask that we might all live our lives shining, reflecting and refracting your love into the worlds of those around us. Having you, Lord God, in our lives is truly a great blessing, giving us a cheerful spirit. When You help our souls to throw the windows wide open, letting in the sunshine, and showing the world its gladness, it has a great power of doing good.

Gracious Lord, we close this prayer by asking that you help us celebrate the birth of your son Jesus Christ, in the knowledge that you are the sunshine of our lives, and offering the prayer that you taught us, the Lord’s Prayer.

Offering prayer

We are still unable to take up our offering in the traditional way, but you are invited to make offerings online or in the plate at the door on your way out.

But no matter how we choose to give, let us commit our offering to God in prayer now: 

Heavenly father, source of all we are and all we have, in this season of gift giving, as we offer you our gift of praise for  the gift of your Son for us, and we offer too the gift of money and our time and effort, to be used for the work of your church, and to your glory to the ends of the earth.

In the name of the first Christmas gift, Bethlehem’s child, Jesus Christ our Lord.




As you go about all you have to do this week, in the lead up to the celebration of our saviour’s birth, I encourage you to think of God’s Christmas Tree, Jesus, and all that he has done and all that he offers. 

And may the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with us all, now and for evermore.


Christmas Day: 25 December 2020
Worship: Luke 2:11-20, John 1:1-14
Theme: A Christmas to remember
Lectionary: Isaiah 52:7-10, Ps 98:1-9,
Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12), Gospel John 1:1-14

Next Sunday: 27 December 2020
Worship: Isaiah 61:10-62, 3; Luke 2:25-35
Theme: Blue Christmas
Lectionary Readings for next Week:
Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Ps 148:1-14,
Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2;22-40