A reflection on the tree in the State House Rotunda


I read this morning’s article in the Providence Journal with a profound sense of disappointment. As a Christian, I celebrate Christmas with great exuberance. For me and those who follow Christ, Christmas represents one of the fundamental tenets of our faith. We celebrate Emmanuel, God’s presence with us, in the person of Jesus.

Christmas marks the beginning of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. I, along with many others of our faith tradition, have long regretted the theft of this celebration by commercialization. Although I enjoy the sharing of gifts with friends and family, the dazzling lights and celebrations, I am also mindful that these are superfluous expressions. If we are really interested in celebrating Christmas, we might better focus our time on the one who proclaimed:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19 (NRSV)

As a Baptist minister, I would encourage us to remember Rhode Island’s founder, Roger Williams, who envisioned a state where ALL faith traditions are welcome. We were not established as a Christian state; rather we are that great “lively experiment” where everyone is welcome to worship (or not) in the way they choose. This governor, as have others, has chosen a more inclusive term to refer to the tree in the rotunda. Why is this such a problem? My exuberance is not diminished an iota by what we call that tree, for my celebration focuses on the implications of Jesus’ birth for my life.

I would ask my fellow Christians, with all of the poverty, hunger and injustice that surround us, do we really believe that Jesus would have us spend all this time and energy around what we call a tree? Do we truly think that the Jesus of the Gospels cares what we call a tree? I would suggest that if we truly want to honor the birth of Jesus, let us be found honoring and serving one another in recognition and thanksgiving for what God has done for us.

Rev. Dr. Don Anderson is the executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches.


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