Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The spirit of Christmas embodied in a tree

By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published January 1, 2016  | En Español

I’ve had the delightful opportunity to visit a number of our parishes during these last few Sundays of Advent and discovered there a common practice. They all had an active “giving tree” project currently in high gear.

The popular practice is widespread to have a giving tree (or grab bag or wish list) available for individuals or families to decide to purchase a gift for a child, an individual or an entire family for Christmas. It’s a very popular custom certainly well beyond our Catholic parishes at this time of year.

A giving tree invites youngsters to develop a spirit of generosity and care for others. Most of our children will be blessed to wake up on Christmas morning to open lots of gifts beneath their family tree, but they must also be taught that Christmas is ultimately more about giving than receiving and that too many youngsters and adults have so much less than they do and need so much more just to sustain a meager existence.

Christmas trees always remind us of the spirit of this season, a spirit that invites us all to trust in God’s fidelity and then to share in the bounty of His love. These evergreen trees are symbols of the very heart of the Christmas season and originally were borrowed from our pre-Christian Germanic ancestors who had identified them with ancient gods and worshiped at these trees.

Christians eventually took the symbol of the tree and then gave it biblical meanings. The tree of the cross is perhaps the most important meaning of our Christmas trees adorned with sparkling lights and decorations. The real “giving tree” was the one that Jesus mounted on the cross that brought salvation to all of us and gave all of God’s creation a new and wondrous dignity.

When we remove a ticket from a giving tree or select a wish from a grab bag of needs or find a way to provide a poor child a Christmas gift, we help to complete the work of the cross of Christ at Christmas since His death and resurrection brought newness to all of humanity. In reality, that small gesture of kindness, generosity and mercy makes the mystery of the Incarnation present in the lives of those who benefit from our kindness and love. A disadvantaged person or family receives not merely a gift, but a revelation that they are loved and cherished.

Imagine if you will, for a moment, the sheer happiness in the eyes of a youngster who receives the bike that he had longed for but thought he would never receive; the grin on the face of a mother who can then prepare a special meal for her family because of the goodness of a silent benefactor; the warmth in the life of a forgotten elderly person who receives a gift card that will allow him to pay a bill that was overdue, buy a simple take-out meal, get an unexpected delight, or merely purchase a blanket that he can use to ward away the cold; then we will know what a real Christmas giving tree is all about.

We have all benefited from the ultimate Giving Tree that was undertaken by our Lord to save us from our too present selfishness, hatred, fear and sin—it’s called the cross. None of us deserved it, but the cross now benefits us beyond our ability to say thanks.

I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year, my dearest brothers and sisters in Christ.