Of Christmas, Trees, and St. Boniface
In 718, the man born as Winfrid of Wessex, England, now known as Boniface, set out on a mission to the Teutonic tribes of northern Germany. Finding the heart of these pagan tribes bound by the worship of gods connected to sacred groves and trees, Boniface began to attack their superstitions openly and boldly. Sometime in 723, Boniface marched to the top of Mt. Gudenberg and cut down the sacred Oak of Thor. Stunned, the crowds watched their god’s shrine defiled and no judgment fell. Sometime later, the Christian Almanac records an occasion when a human sacrifice was to be made, a vestal virgin, offered to one of the deities. Boniface rushed to the scene of the sacrifice, and finding the Druid priest’s hand raised high with the sacrificial knife ready to plunge down into the girl, Boniface is said to have lunged on to the altar catching the knife in a small wooden cross. The priest was knocked away from the victim, and Boniface immediately began to proclaim the gospel of Jesus, that in Him, all sacrifice had been fulfilled. Then making his way through the sacred grove nearby, Boniface began cutting down branches and handing them to the astonished onlookers. He told them to take the branches home, to decorate their homes to remember Jesus whose cross, the tree of Calvary, was the final sacrifice and their garuntee of life and salvation.
We still celebrate this same victory of Christ over sin and death and violence. As we decorate our homes with wreathes and trees all lit up, we remember that tree of Calvary, the proclamation of peace to the world, the ultimate olive branch. Peace and goodwill, indeed.
The sermon text for this Sunday will be from Luke 2:1-20. Our other lessons will be from Isaiah 9:2-7 and Titus 2:11-14.