I bought a candle yesterday while out Christmas shopping. (For obvious reasons, I will refrain from using the actual name of the manufacturer, but it was obviously a well-known brand..from up north.) I was actually shopping for other family members, but they had these new fragrances, and my wife and I are partial to this particular brand anyway, so I picked up a candle for our home, as well.
"Sparkling Pine" the scent is called. It's absolutely wonderful, and even more so here during the Christmas season when the home is supposed to be filled with the fragrance of a Christmas tree. This is not the first time we've used a candle to fill the home with this sweet aroma; last year we used a different label---that fragrance was simply entitled "Christmas Tree"---but the result was the same: it filled our home with the aroma of a freshly cut tree.
I brought the candle home, and about a hour before my wife arrived home from work, I lit the wick, set it up on the mantle, and let it burn. When my wife walked in, the first thing she did was sniff deeply and comment about the fragrance.
It smells like Christmas in our house now.
We've never had a tree. But it smells like Christmas.
I woke at 5:15 this morning thinking about the candle. It wasn't burning. I couldn't smell it. I wasn't thinking the house might be on fire.
I was thinking instead about how some folks try to replace the genuine with something that looks, smells, sounds like the real thing. But there's no tree.
We can light this candle, turn on the Christmas music, even have the wreath over the mantle, the holly placed strategically throughout the house for decoration...we even have the gifts. But the one thing that's missing is the tree.
(There are those among us who frown on the pagan tradition of Christmas trees. I've never had a problem with them, and the closest I'll come to "bowing down before it" is rooting around looking for presents with my name on them. If that's a sin, pray for me.)
I'm much more concerned with folks who try to replace their Christian experience with something that might look similar, sound similar, feel similar...but there's no Tree involved. There's no Calvary. There's no cross. There's no sacrifice.
Christianity without the cross? It's very popular these days. It looks the same, sounds the same, feels pretty close (actually it doesn't, but you can't convince some folks of that) but it doesn't require the Tree.
It doesn't require the bloody mess of Jesus' broken, dying body, racked with pain, being literally slammed against the harsh splinters of his Roman cross with every breath He inhales and exhales. The crucifixion was beyond words in its horrific cruelty, yet some have tried to paint a beautiful glowing picture of a gentle soul, eyes rolled heavenward, a trickle of blood from his wrists and feet.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The truth of the matter is that Jesus was almost unrecognizable as a human being by the time He drew His last breath. I have heard preachers criticized because they went into graphic detail concerning the last moments of Jesus' life on the cross, but alas, my dear friend...there is no pretty way to describe the death throes of Calvary.
Likewise, there is no easy way to describe the cross that each of us are required to carry to be His disciple. As someone recently stated, "Salvation is free, but discipleship has a cost."
We cannot have Christianity without a tree involved. It doesn't matter what it may look like, sound like, feel like. We're not dealing with a fake Christmas scent here, designed to make the house smell like the holidays without the mess of pine needles strewn on the floor. Christianity can be messy, demanding, exacting a toll on each of its followers, and there is no substitution for the tree. Jesus Himself said, "If any man will be my disciple, let him come, take up his cross daily and follow me."
Is it any wonder that so many are trying to be Christians without the cross? It's a hard price to pay, and, just as in those days, so today many refuse to walk with Him when it becomes obvious that it cannot be done without the Tree.
In the fourteen years I've been married, my wife and I have never had a Christmas tree in our home. It's not that we don't want one; we've just never had a place to put one. So, we've found alternate methods of bringing the Christmas spirit into our home: the fragrance can be bottled up and marketed in a candle.
But there's no tree.
When it comes to Christianity, many have the fragrance, the decor, the lights, the sounds...even the Gifts.
But if there's no Tree, it's not the real thing.