On a bitterly cold January 6, families from Christ Memorial Reformed Church of Holland, Michigan, expectantly gathered in a circle around a small bonfire in the church parking lot. Children jockeyed for position, eager to have an unimpeded view of the huge pile of dead and discarded Christmas trees.
The ceremony was not new to many of the families who attended. Each year members of Christ Memorial gather on Epiphany to burn their Christmas trees—not just to be rid of the old needle droppers, but to celebrate, in a very visible way, the coming of Jesus as the light of the world.
After singing an opening hymn the group joined in reading a litany of Scripture passages that recall how important light is as a symbol of the presence and purpose of God's love (see litany below). Then, under the careful supervision of a group of scouts (and with the permission of the local fire department), the tinder-dry Christmas trees were placed, one by one, on the glowing fire. The children squealed with delight as each new tree burst into flames, reminding us of the enthusiasm that must have greeted the news of God's birth and presence—and which leads us even now to let our lights shine.
The Christmas tree burning has become an important event in the Christ Memorial church year. It's a service that provides the kind of visual impression that children remember for a long time, an impression that helps give meaning to the word Epiphany for the whole neighborhood.
A Litany for Epiphany
People: Why do we celebrate Epiphany today?
Leader: We celebrate the visit of the wise men who symbolize that God's salvation is available to all persons, not just the Jews.
People: Why is Epiphany known as the season of light?
Leader: Remember the words of the prophet: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined" (Isa. 9:2).
People: We have heard that Jesus said, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).
Leader: "This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness as all" (1 John 1:5).
People: "Come let us walk in the light of the Lord" (Isa. 2:5).
Leader: "You are the light of the world… let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father, who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:14—16)
People: May our lives lead people to God the way the star led the wise men to Jesus.
Leader:"Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you" (Isa. 60:1).
—Christ Memorial Church Holland, Michigan