Mistletoe is a familiar sight and symbol of Christmastime. Often hung in doorways and adorned with ribbon, the little green sprigs with white berries bring love and affection wherever they go. As tradition holds, anyone found standing underneath one is fair game for a holiday kiss. While the history and symbolism of the tradition make for interesting reading on their own, it’s the biology of the plant that holds the real lesson. See, mistletoe is actually a parasite. It grows by tapping into another tree’s resources deep under the cover of the leaves. The Bible tells us that it’s the little foxes that spoil the vines. Beware of spiritual mistletoe.
Mistletoe is a Hemiparasite
There are many varieties of mistletoe that grow around the world. According to Triangle Gardener, the American version is officially called “Phoradendron leucarpum.” The word Phoradendron translates from Latin to mean “tree thief.” The plant is a hemiparasite. That means that even though it can synthesize sunlight on its own, it prefers to sap the moisture and nutrients from its host tree. It starves the tree and drains its energy and vitality, using the tree’s own minerals to keep itself green all year long.
The plant is spread in two ways. First, birds love to eat the juicy white berries. When they visit other trees, they leave their droppings with the seeds inside. Second, the berries themselves will burst with internal pressure, shooting out their sticky insides to land on the next nearest tree branch. Once landed, the seed will germinate and produce a root-type protrusion called a haustorium that sinks deep into the bark and sends strands to find the tree’s vascular system. As each successive plant produces more berries, more and more patches will grow. A tree that is heavily infested could be stunted in growth or even die if there is additional stress like drought or extreme temperatures.
Full Trees Hide What’s Underneath
“For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”1 Samuel 16:7b
Trees that are full of leaves are like people. Most of the time, we can’t really tell what’s going on underneath all the foliage. One tree looks the same as any other in the spring and even in the fall when leaves turn yellow, orange, and red. It’s only when the seasons change again and the leaves start to fall that we can begin to see what’s underneath. The Lord, however, sees right through our leaves no matter what season we are in.
“Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.”Song of Solomon 2:15
Spiritual mistletoe is all the little things we allow into our lives that start to drain the strength and vitality of our relationship with the Lord. We can pick up new interests or habits that take our time and attention away from God. We can let go of some of the good habits we used to have with Bible study and prayer. We can even allow the devil’s attacks and the Lord’s tests to weary us so that we stop fighting and lose ourselves in the numbness of media or other worldly pursuits.
Like the little foxes that spoil the vines, mistletoe starts small. One little patch on a tree might not do a lot of damage. Nobody else might even know it’s there. But allowing one blotch to stay creates just the right environment for the berries to burst and spread. Pretty soon more and more things can pull us further and further away from where we used to be in God. What started as a little sprig could become an infestation that stunts our growth and weakens our ability to produce spiritual fruit.
Prune Your Branches
“Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”John 15:2
If you want healthy trees, mistletoe can’t be tolerated. Simply cutting it back will not remove the parasite since its roots burrow deep into the tree’s bark. The only way to get rid of it is to prune the branches. It’s the same with us. Once we notice that something has started to hinder our relationship with God, it’s up to us to cut it out completely. Even the little things that seem fine for a moment can cause damage if we let them stick around. We must prayerfully examine ourselves and ask the Holy Spirit to show us if we have any spiritual mistletoe.
The End of the Season Is at Hand
Mistletoe might be a pretty little holiday tradition, but spiritual mistletoe is a cancer that must be eliminated. We need every one of our resources directed to our relationship with God to fight the enemy and complete the work the Lord has for us to do in these last days. Full trees can hide a lot from the rest of the world, but as seasons go, winter is inevitable. Our leaves WILL drop, and one day we will stand bare before a Holy God. Let’s make sure that we have nothing to be ashamed of on that day.
This blog was created from a sermonette by Doug Christian.
If you like analogies, try 3 Last Days Object Lessons From Shopping. Or, try It’s Not the Machine That Makes Us Clean. It compares aspects of the Christian life to a dishwasher. Please sign up to receive my blog in your email. Also, check out my YouTube Channel where I read the blogs out loud. I also have a playlist of hymns from my church.