Reminder: Please don't forget to come to our "Community Christmas Program" this Friday, Dec. 5th at 7pm!
Happy New Year! HappyAdvent! Merry Christmas!
It may sound strange to hear me say, "Happy New Year!" when it is December. However, each year, Advent marks the start of a new Christian Year. It is a time when we prepare ourselves for the coming of our Messiah. Advent means "coming." We spend the days of Advent in expectation and preparation for Christ's arrival. We wait, watch, and wonder. For many centuries, Christians have observed this time of expectation before celebrating the birth of Christ at Christmas. Advent proclaims the revelation of God's love as expressed in Christ's birth in a humble stable, his sacrificial death on the cross, and his victorious resurrection. It points to the hope of Christ's coming again as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. As we enjoy the beautiful decorations used during the Advent and Christmas seasons, Christians should remember that most of the decorations make a statement about the identity of Jesus Christ. Following are some of the most common decorations used and a description of how they serve as a sign or reminder of our Savior.
(1) The Christmas Tree - An evergreen tree glittering with lights and ornaments has become a powerful symbol of Christmas. There are several legends about the origin of the Christmas tree. Some believe the first Christmas tree was used in the medieval German Paradise Plays. The plays were held outdoors and portrayed the creation of humankind. The tree in the play, called the Tree of Life, was a fir tree decorated with apples. Later, other ornaments such as paper flowers were hung upon the tree. The great reformer, Martin Luther,was perhaps the first to use a lighted tree. The story is told that, one Christmas Eve, Martin Luther wandered outdoors and became enraptured with the beauty of the starry sky. Its loveliness led him to reflect on the glory of the first Christmas and the angels that appeared to announce it in Bethlehem's radiant skies. Wishing to share his sense of enchantment with his family, he cut down an evergreen tree in the forest. He dragged it home, still glistening with snow. He placed candles upon it to represent the glorious, starry sky he had seen. The use of a candle-lighted tree began to spread throughout Europe. Eventually, Christians came to regard a tree as the central ornament of Christmas. In the first chapter of the gospel of John, we read that, in Jesus “was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” As we prepare for the coming of Jesus, the Light of the World, we string lights all over our Christmas trees. Wherever you see a lighted Christmas tree, let it bring to mind the One who brings light to our darkness, healing to our brokenness, and peace to all who receive Him.
(2) Evergreen Garlands - The most striking and the most universal feature of Christmas is the use of evergreens in churches and homes. Among ancient Romans evergreens were an emblem of peace, joy, and victory. The early Christians placed them in their windows to indicate that Christ had entered the home. Evergreens never change color. They are always green, always alive, even in the midst of winter. They symbolize the unchanging nature of our God and remind us of the everlasting life that is ours through Christ Jesus.
(3) The Door Wreath - Isaiah tells us that there will be no end to the reign of the Messiah. During this season, many hang evergreen wreaths on their doors. These wreaths are shaped like a circle, which has no end, to signify that the eternal reign of Jesus Christ will never end.
(4) The Cedar Branch - In ancient times, the cedar was revered as the tree of royalty. It also signified immortality and was used for purification. The cedar branch is a symbol of Christ and of the kind of power he wielded: not the power of might, but the power of transformation. As we contemplate his call to justice and peace, we seek to purify our hearts and "renew a right spirit within us." Cedar branches remind us of Christ, who reigns as King forever and whose coming, in justice and righteousness, will purify our hearts.
(5) Holly & Ivy - Isaiah 53:1-6 tells of the sufferings of Jesus, who saved us from our sins by his death on the cross. It also reminds us that, by his resurrection, he saved us from the grip of death. In ancient times, the holly and the ivy were considered signs of Christ’s passion. Their prickly leaves suggested the crown of thorns, the red berries remind us of our Savior’s blood, and the bitter barks reminds us of the drink offered to Jesus on the cross. As we decorate with holly and ivy, we rejoice in the coming of Jesus, our Savior.
(6) Advent Candle Wreath - The candles in the Advent wreath are arranged in a circle to remind us of the continuous power of God. It also reminds us that God is the Alpha and Omega, without beginning or end. We light one candle each Sunday for the four consecutive Sundays preceding Christmas. The colors of the five candles are significant. The three blue or purple candles symbolize hope, love, and peace. The royal color reminds us that Christ comes from the royal line of David. He is the King of Kings as well as the Prince of Peace.The pink candle is the candle of joy. We light this candle on the last Sunday of the Advent season, the Sunday before Christmas. The large white candle in the center is called the Christ candle. It symbolizes Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. We light this candle on Christmas Eve and/or the first Sunday after Christmas.
(7) The Nativity - Luke 2:1-7 tells us that, as a newborn babe, Jesus was placed in a manger. This was a sign of his humble birth. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with displaying the first nativity about 800 years ago. It was a time when few people had access to books and, therefore, many people were illiterate. For people who could not read, the nativity was an effective way to tell the story of the birth of Christ. The nativity scenes we see this season remind us that Jesus was born, lived, and served in humility of spirit. We, likewise, are to humbly serve one another. In short, the season of Advent makes inn-keepers out of all of us, asking each of us to make room for the arrival of Christ our King.
As we decorate for this special time of year, may each decoration we use remind us to make more room for Jesus in our hearts, our lives, and our homes. Happy New Year, Happy Advent & Merry Christmas!