The deeper message of a decorated tree

Gordon Stewart
Gordon C. Stewart is a Presbyterian minister.
Submitted photo

"It's not easy being green." Kermit the Frog's song came to mind last week as I thought about the 45-foot Christmas tree that has become a kind of seasonal landmark in Chaska.

When Kermit sings it, he's talking about being different. It's not easy being a frog. But "green" has taken on a whole new meaning in our time. If it were easy being green, there would have been no gathering in Copenhagen, where the arguments appeared to be more about who is browner and who is greener than about making a commitment to the planet we inhabit.

Closer to home there's the evergreen tree on the front lawn of the little church I serve in Chaska. It drew no attention when it was planted. It stood less than five feet tall back then. But as it grew year by year, the spruce tree was decorated with lights at Christmastime, until now it is a seasonal landmark in Chaska.

The Shepherd of the Hill tree has seen 38 seasons come and go. It just keeps growing, reaching for the sky and spreading its branches as a constant reminder to pay attention to the green things of this world. For this one month of the year, as the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer, it brings light.

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But it's not easy being green, either for the tree or the church. Do we keep the old lights? Do we replace them with new strings of LED lights? Or do we strip all lights and just let the tree be a tree all year 'round?

Before we got all strung out over who among us was greener, the decision was made for us. A member stepped forward with new strings of LED lights. Another member of the congregation donated a hoist like those the telephone company uses, and workers carefully removed the old strings of lights and hung the new ones.

For us at Shepherd of the Hill, the tree at Christmas bears witness to the Christ child. But as the other 11 months of the year remind us, no religious tradition ever owns a tree. The tree calls us to live more humbly and responsibly as creatures of a wonderfully diverse, intricately interdependent garden that depends -- no matter our religion, nation, race or culture -- on the breath of life itself.

In a purely green world, we would have left the tree alone all 12 months of the year. But for this one month the old tree shines a lovely, greener light and reminds us of a message once heard unexpectedly by poor shepherds far removed from the power brokers -- a message heard by everyone abiding in the fields by night: "Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace." And all year long, it reminds that no one owns a tree.

Gordon C. Stewart is pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, a regular guest commentator on "All Things Considered," and moderator of the "Shepherd of the Hill Dialogues: examining critical public issues locally and globally."