Be links no longer broken;
Be sweet forgiveness spoken,
Under the holly bough
People think of Christmas in many ways. For most, it is a melange of symbols; and symbols are powerful things. Immediately we can think of them, as gifts, stars, trees, nativity sets, and lights testify.
But the power of symbols is not in the prettiness or brightness or ornamentation. The power is in the representation. This representation has its own message, yet it carries along with that basic message our own layer of emotions and hopes. And in this is the penetrating message of Christmas.
Devotional thoughts for every day of Advent
First, under all the layers, inside the wrappings, what is the essence of Christmas? Those of us from a Christian upbringing wave our hands:"Jesus, Jesus!". The wise Sunday School teacher will respond," Yes, but why is Jesus this answer and what does this mean to us?" That is where we decipher the code of the symbols. They are keys to unlock a treasured message.
Angels, those mysterious heavenly beings, and a star, a heavenly portent, give us the first clue. The heavens are opening, God is using His own means to reach down into the world of mankind.
The timing and the situation are not the most propitious by man's standards. The little town of Bethlehem, by reason of decreed taxation, is chosen in one of the lowest times of Jewish history: dispersed, oppressed, with no sign of relief. It is at this time and in this place that the signs appear - but to the few. The young Jewish maiden, the shepherds, and magi, these are the few to listen to the message of the angels and follow the beckoning of a star. The message is God's message, the listener's few, but the portent is great: Peace".
A message of peace, that elusive prize that comforts the hearts of men. It is a pervasive peace that penetrates the lowliest stable, that reaches out to the farthest ands, the isolated places, those with riches, those with little. A reconciliatory message to those who were sure they were unwanted: a savior is born.
The code of the gifts has changed their expected meaning. Though there was lowliness of a stable, there was the honor of the gifts - costly and symbolic. They were not lavished for like reward, or on the altar of prestigious men, they were given to the champion of all who were born without reputation, favor, or fortune.
And the angel said unto them, "Fear not!
For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy,
Which shall be to all people."
"For unto you is born this day in the city of David
A Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."
-The Gospel of Luke
And what about the tree, the feasting, the secret gifts, and kindnesses? What about the music and the lights and the trim? Those are ours. Those are our responses of joy, appreciation of love and family, celebration of the gifts of the earth and the promises of heaven. The exultant light shining in the darkest hours of the earth. The acceptance of the message of hope and the celebration of some of heaven's mirth in our own homes. A stretching of ourselves in the compassion and gentleness that notices the others around one.
This message of God is not without some pain and disappointment. It is not without some deferral, waiting, and sacrifices. It was all there in the symbols. It remains there, because the story is true.
Here is the final key: wherever and whoever you are, you are not forgotten. The savior who came is awaiting you still. It is a banquet a little different then you imagined. Where your soul rather than your belly is filled. For it is from the soul that a life worth living is born.
Now the message of Christmas is deciphered. From the deepest darkness, from the least hopeful circumstances, God's love gives a light and a life that despite all odds will shine.
That gift is Jesus. And that is reason to celebrate.
Symbols and Legends:
The Candy Cane
A Candy maker made a stick of white, hard candy. It was white to symbolize the Virgin birth and the sinless nature of Jesus, and hard to symbolize that Jesus was the Solid Rock, the foundation of the church. It also showed the firmness of the promises of God.
He made the candy in the form of a "J" to represent the initial of Jesus, who came to earth as the Savior,inverted, it is the shape of the staff of the Good Shepherd .
The red stripes are three small stripes to show the scourging of Jesus for healing; a large red stripe symbolizing the blood shed by Jesus on the Cross representing salvation of the soul
And thus the candy cane which is one of the sights and tastes of Christmas, shares its message.
The Christmas Tree
St. Boniface, a missionary to Germany, used the three points of the Christmas Tree as a symbol for the Trinity.
A legend says St. Boniface one day came upon people who were going to sacrifice a child to one of their gods, who was symbolized by an oak tree. In order to save the child's life, St Boniface cut the oak tree down with an ax. A fir tree sprang from the stump of the fallen oak. St. Boniface then taught that the fir tree stood for the eternal life of Christ. This legend could represent how Christianity (the fir tree) replaced the worship of the Germanic gods (the oak tree). Some of the earliest, circa 16th century, decorations hung on a tree were "roses cut of many-colored paper, apples, wafers, gilt, sugar."
It seems that instead of one single source, there were several traditions that combined, the paradise tree, the Yule log, and the evergreen decorations of the season. They have served to delight many at this time of year.
Christmas in Ohio
Loving Christmas Home
Where does Santa Claus come from?
The original Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, was born in southeastern Turkey, in Lycia, early in the fourth century. Historically he was known as Bishop Nicholas of Myra, was well known for generosity and kindness to children. This was recorded in Roman accounts and led to his becoming the patron saint of children. Throughout the Middle Ages, he was known by many names, but the present name is the Spanish for "saint" and the short form of Nicholaus, "Claus". It seems to be related to the Netherlands in this way, since they were politically connected to Spain for a time, and Claus is still a common name there. Their own designation of this father Christmas is Sinter Klaas.
Santa Claus and the Christian Response to him is very informative, if you wish more research.
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