Rediscovered Tree of Life from Paradise

Blessings to you this Christmas 2018. The LMM YouTube channel now has 5000 subscribers and nearing two million views. I have much to be thankful for. I came across this lovely read about the oldest Christmas tree. I want to visit Steyr soon. Imagine real Christmas is a tree, star and a child. So simple.

The Rediscovered Tree of Life from Paradise

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to see the oldest surviving Christmas
Christkindl Church near Steyr, Austria

tree in the world, which forms a kind of reredos behind the high altar in the church at Christkindl near Steyr.  The history of this tree takes us back to the year 1694.  At that time, Steyr had a new sacristan and choirmaster who suffered from epilepsy, or, as the chronicle innocently puts it, "the sickness where one falls down."  He came from Melk, where he had become acquainted with the devotion to the Child Jesus.  He placed a picture of the Holy Family in the hollow of a medium-sized pine, and he found strength and consolation as he said his prayers before his picture.  Then he heard of an image of the Christ Child that had healed a paralyzed nun, and after some time he succeeded in obtaining an exact copy, a waxen Christ Child holding a cross in one hand and the crown of thorns in the other.

He brought this image to the tree and said his prayers before it, sensing that a healing power radiated from the image.  Gradually, people heard about this, and they began to make pilgrimages to the Christ Child in the tree.  The Church authorities in Passau were slow to approve of this popular devotion, but the local people were finally given permission to erect a little church around this tree, and the foundation stone of the Christkindl church was laid in 1708.  It was built by the most celebrated Austrian architects of the time, on the model of Santa Maria Rotonda in Rome.  One might say that it has become a precious husk around the tree, out of which the altar and the tabernacle grow.  The tree still bears the little waxen Christ child.  He wears a crown, and rays go forth from the figure, giving an assurance of faith and hope to many people.

The story is more than just an interpretation of one of our loveliest Christmas customs: I have come to see it as key to the very heart of the mystery of Christmas itself.  This tree is now the rediscovered tree of life from paradise; as an old German hymn says, "the cherub with his flaming sword no longer blocks the way."  And this tree is Mary with the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus.  And Jesus is there as a child without weapons, issuing an invitation to us.  He is "Immanuel", God as a child, a God to whom we may speak in intimate language.  He invites us to Himself, and in a very deep sense, we are all suffering from "the sickness where one falls down."  Again and again, we find ourselves unable interiorly to walk upright and to stand.  Again and again, we fall down: we are not masters of our own lives; we are alienated; we are not free.  The rotunda of the church building underline this.  The circular octagon is the classical form of baptisteries, which in turn is linked to a very ancient tradition in religious history, namely, to the cave and to the circular building that hint at the maternal womb- at the mystery of birth.  Thus, the building points once more to Mary, to the Church, and to our baptism and rebirth.  The building explains to us what it means to affirm that God has become a child.  It explains to us the meaning of Jesus' words to Nicodemus: "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (Jn 3:5).  And another saying of Jesus belongs here too:  "Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 18:3).

Karl Marx once said that a man is not independent as long as he owes his existence to the goodwill of someone else.  As long as you are not autonomous, you are not free, you are dependent.  This seems perfectly obvious!  But if we look more closely, we discover that Marx's words declare love to be slavery.  For love means that I need the other and that I need his goodwill.

This idea of freedom understands love as servitude; in other words, it presupposes the destruction of love.  This makes it an attack on the truth of human existence, since this draws its life from love.  And it is an attack on God, since man is God's image precisely by the fact that he needs love.  For God, too, did not want to be "independent" of love: the Son exists only from the Father, and the Spirit exists only from the Father and the Son, and the Father exists only for the other two Persons.  It is only in this mutual dependency, as the Triune Deity, that He is God.  And this must be so, if God is love.

The Child Jesus points us to this primal truth of human existence.  We must be born again.  We must be accepted, and we must let ourselves be accepted.  We must transform our dependency into love and become free therein.  We must be born again, laying aside our pride and becoming a child.  In the Child Jesus, we must recognize and receive the fruit of life.  This is what Christmas is meant to bring about in us.  This is the truth of the child, the truth of the fruit from the tree of life.  The tree at Christkindl, which tells us all this, is at the same time a monstrance, the appearance of the One who is the bread of life, the appearance of salvation.  And this tree is a cross, and thus has become an altar.  The child bears the cross and the crown of thorns in his hands.  These are the signs of the love that transforms the tree into a cross and the cross into a table of eternal life.

The true tree of life is not far from us, somewhere in a world that we have lost.  It has been established in our midst, not only as an image and sign, but in reality.  Jesus, who is himself the fruit of the tree of life, and life itself, has become so small that our hands can enclose him.  He makes himself dependent upon us in order to make us free and to raise us up from our "sickness where we fall down."  Let us not disappoint the trust he places in us.  Let us place ourselves in his hands, just as he has placed himself in our hands!

Article taken from "The Blessings of Christmas"pp 53 - 60 by Joseph Ratzinger 
(Pope Benedict XVI)

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