The Matthew Tree

At our house, we are really serious about telling Matthew’s story one year and Luke’s the other year. This year, it is Matthew so we are decorating the tree the way Matthew would have wanted it.

Every now and then, I imagine that I will try to palm off all this playing with the tree as a way to engage my kids in Advent/Christmas, but my kids are all in their 50s. I have some grandchildren in town who are young enough to enjoy this kind of playing around and their parents are amazingly tolerant. But the truth is that I decorate the tree this way because I like it.

Every year something new gets added. This year it is the star. This came to me about a month ago in the middle of what I recall as a sound sleep. I remember liking the idea right away, but very shortly after IMG_0572that I remember thinking that if it doesn’t work, I can say that an angel revealed it to me in a dream. [1]

Everyone knows that the Wise Men—we would call them astrologers today—saw “a star at its rising.” Just by looking
at it, they could tell that it foretold a new king of the Jews. “So,” I said to myself in my sleep-befuddled state, “Just what kind of star would give them that idea?” [2]

Because it is a Matthew year, we celebrate Matthew’s interest in the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew’s genealogy is much better known than the one Luke provides and we celebrate that by featuring the forebears of Jesus on the tree. It took some doing to get four that are exactly alike, but I managed. I have written recently about the amazing women who help to drive Matthew’s genealogy forward. Here, I celebrate all of them at once, including both Jacobs and their sons, both Josephs. It all fits together, as you see. One of the requirements of the tree we choose is that it will have a place for the bears.

As you would imagine, we have different ornaments for the different years—not all the ornaments are different, just enough to establish which year it is. The fact that the Wise Men knew what the star “meant” establishes that they were astrologers, wIMG_0576hich we represent with the signs of the zodiac, four of them in this picture.  The fact that they headed off for Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, establishes that they were political geographers. The fact that they followed the star all the way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and then didn’t tell Herod what they had found means that they were faithful to their calling.

And, finally, there is the question of where the Wise Men went in Bethlehem. They went to
the house over which the star stopped; the house of Joseph and Mary and their little boy, probably about two years old at the time, Jesus. [3] I mentioned that part of this whole charade was to establish in the minds of the grandchildren (and their parents) that by Matthew’s account, Joseph and Mary lived in Bethlehem. They never got as far north as Nazareth, way up in the Galilee district, until the end of the story Matthew tells.

So for a dwelling, we wanted something that looked as little like a stable as possible. Fisher-Price accommodated us by producing this monstrosity. It has little household “appliances” inside—a computer, a microwave, a toilet, and a phone, all of which make approximations of the appropriate sounds. If you wanted to say that by Matthew’s account, JESUS LIVED IN A HOUSE, you could hardly find anything better adapted to the purpose. [4]

IMG_0580There is a front door that is big enough for the Wise Men, imagining that they parked their camels in the yard. [5] The colors stand out, possibly to make the house easier to find. At a certain point in the process, I back carefully away from exegesis, keeping both hands in plain sight, and let my whimsy take over.

This all works, by the way. The grandchildren know that the story Matthew tells is different from the story Luke tells. Their parents know as well. They know that Grammy and “Dale”—there really isn’t a good title for stepfathers, a plight, but one I share with Joseph—are very picky about how they decorate the tree.[6]

So it’s all good. It gives a theme to each Advent season. I am checking with El Al to see if we can, in two more years, represent the Flight to Egypt is some engaging way.

[1] Among the good reasons not to try this is that it doesn’t fit Matthew’s story. There are lots of dreams in Matthew’s account, but angels don’t give messages to gentiles in dreams. The Wise Men, for instance, were “warned in a dream;” no angel. I am unquestionably a gentile, so I would need to skip any reference to an angel in his year.
[2] The same kind that Balaam saw (Numbers 24:) I imagine. I think Matthew was counting on his story recalling the old familiar story.
[3] That’s the way Herod calculated it, in any case. Presuming that Jesus was born when the star appeared, two years elapsed between the time they first saw the star and the time they conferred with Herod.
[4] The plan, of course, was not to use this monstrosity in the Luke year, when we needed a stable with a feed trough and some animals and some shepherds. The kids really liked the HOUSE, however, so in the Luke year, we brought it back as the INN that unaccountably could not find room for the Holy Family.
[5] This imagines that there were three Wise Men, when in fact no one has any idea how many were in the party. We know that there were three gifts, but that is the only number we have to work with. Since they were academics, it is possible that they had to share the cost of such spendy gifts.
[6] There are lots of non-picky ornaments on the tree as well, including a lot of the most popular secular ones and in Luke’s year Santa’s reindeer need to be kept from fraternizing with the oxen and the asses.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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