Sermon preached at Eucharist on the First Sunday of Christmas (31 December 2018) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor

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12:30pm Eucharist
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5:00pm Evening Prayer
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Sermon preached at Eucharist on the First Sunday of Christmas (31 December 2018) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor

The Canon Pastor reflects on the meaning of the Christmas carol 'Jesus Christ the Apple Tree'. 


In the back garden of my childhood home stood an old apple tree – once part of a much larger orchard. Not so tall and stately as an oak or elm nonetheless   it offered easy first climbs into the fork low in its main trunk and one of the dividing branches arched out providing the perfect anchoring place for our rope swing. In the early summer to swing high amongst the pink blossom and to watch the bees busy and laden with pollen was sheer bliss. In the autumn great shiny apples were gathered and cooked – a glorious – and free bounty.

When we think of trees in this season of Christmas we usually picture such graceful and majestic trees such as these firs. Indoors or outside, bedecked with lights and decorations. 

But later in our service, during the distribution of Communion, the choir will sing a well-loved English carol, Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.

I’m told that today there are over 7,500 different apple cultivars but the apple tree originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor is still found. 

It’s been suggested that the apple was perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated and apples have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe. They are mentioned in both Greek and in Norse and Alexander the Great is credited with finding dwarfed apples in Kazakhstan in 328 BC. 

As for the carol itself, there are discussions to be had about its lyrical origins. Its first known publication seems to have been here in London in 1761 and the person who submitted it for publication has been thought to have been the Revd Richard Hutchins, a Calvinist Baptist clergyman living in rural Northamptonshire. There is a suggestion that the lyrics appeared earlier still, perhaps around 1730. They have been set to music by a number of composers, including Elizabeth Poston, whose tune we shall hear this morning and also contemporary composer John Rutter. 

As we continue in our celebrations at his birth we are reminded that life and hope were planted within and brought to birth through Mary and nurtured by Joseph. 

In the lyrics of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree the beauty and fruitfulness of all other trees are acknowledged, but all are found to be mere echoes of the beauty and life found in the Christ-child.

For as he grew Mary’s child, Jesus would reveal the glory of God, in words of wisdom, challenge and compassion. In lives renewed and even death overcome.

Because of his coming, people all around the world still find that what we truly long for is found not in transient pleasures but in him, steadfast, deep rooted. 

In him we blossom and we too are led to fruitfulness. From him the leaves of healing, of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, forgiveness bud and are brought to be in those who grow in his shadow. 

Beneath his sheltering we may rest and sit when the demands of life press in or we grow weary and at our end there we shall be drawn to him, the tree of life.
Today is the 6th day of Christmas, the days are starting to lengthen again and the New Year approaches.

Before we know it Spring followed first days of summer will be here and in orchards and small back gardens blossom will begin to bud on trees which right now look as though they are dormant or dead.

Now in this midwinter time, as we bring before God all that lies ahead in the coming months, what is your prayer? What will God bring to fruit in you?

In these days and in the year to come, as you stay close to him may Christ, the Apple Tree shelter you, feed you, anchor you, and cause your roots to go deep into the soil of God’s love for you.

May his spirit enable you to blossom and in Him may you be found fruitful. Amen.