One of my favorite parts of Christmas is sitting in the darkened living room, gazing at the lighted tree. There is something magical and transfixing about the warm, gentle light, the fragrance of pine, and the palpable presence of nature that fills my home with its incongruous beauty.
I have many memories of reading Scripture by the light of the Christmas tree. Usually we read from Luke, with Matthew’s bit about the Wise Men added in; sometimes we expand into Isaiah, either spoken or set to Handel.
This year, though, when I stole a moment of stillness out of the hectic holiday rush to sit beside the tree, the words that came to my mind were Nephi’s:
It had never struck me before how much meaning the Book of Mormon adds to our celebration of the Christmas tree. Scripture is rife with references to the Tree of Life, and the notion of everlasting life certainly accords well with what I was taught as a child: that the evergreen Christmas tree was a symbol of the eternal life brought to us by Christ.
But Nephi’s education about the interpretation of the tree in 1 Nephi 11 is more specific. In answer to his query about the meaning of the tree, Nephi’s guide instructs him, “Look!” and Nephi describes the ensuing vision thus: “I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of aNazareth I beheld a bvirgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.”
Fair and white. Just like the tree. Later, he sees her again, “bearing a achild in her arms,” and is told that she is the mother of the son of God, after the flesh.
As I sat under my white-garlanded tree thinking of those verses, I remembered Dan Petersen’s paper, Nephi and His Asherah. Take a look at the paper if you have a moment; it’s lovely yuletide reading. Petersen posits that Nephi was able to make the seemingly odd connection of a tree with the Mother of God because he was familiar with the worship (endemic in the Israel of his time) of the goddess Asherah, wife of the god of Israel, and her identification with sacred trees.
Contemplating my Christmas tree again, I thought of Mary, the earthly mother of the Savior. And of his other mother, his Heavenly Mother, bidding him one last tender farewell before entrusting him to Mary’s care. And the divine love so breathtakingly expressed by Nephi’s beautiful tree and its rare fruit. In the words of the angel Gabriel, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”
I don’t believe I’ll ever see a Christmas tree again without thinking not only of the love of a Heavenly Father giving the world his only begotten son, but also the love of a Heavenly Mother and a young earthly mother, each gifting us with her own precious child.