Decorations and Traditions
Holly Garland – God promises eternal life
John 3: 16 NRSV
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Background to the Holly Garland
Holly is evergreen, a symbol of eternal life obtained through Christ Jesus. The berries and the thorns represent the crucifixion and death of Christ, so that we might have life. Life is filled with thorns and red berries, but God also gives us a feeling of happiness, of being alive, of being green.
The Holly Garland reminds us of God’s promise of eternal life.
The Poinsettia – God’s people will blossom with life
1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
Background to the Poinsettia
The Poinsettia has red leaves, once again a symbol of Christ’s death, which give us life, symbolized by the green leaves. The poinsettia, a Christmas flower, reminds us that Christ is like a flower, which will bloom in the desert. The desert may refer to the waiting of Advent and to our human situation – when God comes at Christmas. The story of the poinsettia is that a Mexican girl was going to church on Christmas, but had no gift to bring. She knelt down and wept because of her poverty, and from her tears sprung a poinsettia.
So, the Poinsettia reminds us that God will help us to blossom with life.
The Wreath – God’s promise of love
1James 4: 9-11
9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
Background on the Wreath
The wreath is made of evergreens, a symbol of eternal life which Christ is coming at Christmas to bring. The circle suggests the everlasting covenant God makes with us, and also the love of God which encircles us and holds us close. A circle has no beginning or end, just as God’s love for us has not beginning or end. It is much the way that we hold a baby, encircling them with our arms, encircling a baby with love, just like Mary held her infant.
So the wreath reminds us of God’s promise to always love us.
The Mistletoe – God promises a peaceful ruler
Zechariah 9: 9-10
9Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war-horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Background to the Mistletoe
Mistletoe has no roots and no seeds. How it spreads is a mystery-like the mystery of God’s love and God’s presence with us in a baby. Where the mistletoe hung, was a place to meet in peace, to exchange the gift of peace, a kiss of peace (not merely the romantic variety).
The Christmas Tree – God promises to beautify his church
Isaiah 60: 13-15
13The glory of Lebanon shall come to you,
the cypress, the plane, and the pine,
to beautify the place of my sanctuary;
and I will glorify where my feet rest.
14The descendants of those who oppressed you
shall come bending low to you,
and all who despised you
shall bow down at your feet;
they shall call you the City of the Lord,
the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.
15Whereas you have been forsaken and hated,
with no one passing through,
I will make you majestic forever,
a joy from age to age.
Background to the Christmas Tree
The psalmist, like Isaiah, also speaks of being planted like a tree by the waters. It reminds us of waiting, of being patient for God’s coming. It reminds us to be steadfast. How many of us have seen those trees that cling to the side of a cliff, the only thing that is holding them there in the face of the elements is their roots. Some of the ancient peoples of Europe worshipped at sacred trees. Christian missionaries encouraged them to keep their devotions using the trees, but to change their focus as they were called to see the evergreen of the tree as God’s promise of eternal life. They were called to see the steadfast strength of God in the strong roots of the tree and finally to see that a tree takes time to grow and to have patience for God’s kingdom to come. So in this way the Christmas tree became a new Christian Tradition.
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
We spend a lot of time in the church year celebrating different seasons. We have Pentecost, which lasts over 20 weeks, Easter which lasts 7 weeks, even Lent and Advent are given a good amount of time in the church calendar, with 6 and 4 Sundays respectively. Yet here we are at Christmas time and it is only a very short 12 days. But in reality Christmas time lasts for a whole lot shorter than that. If we were to really think about it by the time the middle of this coming week most minds have now turned to the New Years and what this upcoming year might bring, or what party are they going to attend for New Year’s Eve.
I suppose in some ways this echoes the beginning of the Gospel of John, who spends very little time in his Gospel on the birth of Jesus, in fact it is only one verse long, . “14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” It seems like this is written perfectly for our world today. Let’s get it over with and quickly move onto the next thing. There is something to be said for our world and its rather short attention span. We sit and watch television, but how many of us jump from channel to channel watching more than one program at a time? How many of us are so easily distracted by all of the noise and confusion of this world in which we live. I will be the first to admit that I am so easily distracted. Some days I can’t seem to concentrate on anything, because I am trying to follow everything. But in reality I don’t think that John was doing in his Gospel. You see John begins by telling us that this event is, and never was a onetime event as John begins with, “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” The birth of Jesus was one part of a much bigger story. It is a continuation of God’s work in the world that began at the beginning, even before creation. God created, not because God had to, but because God loved and that life that God created was light to all people. A light that was meant to lead us back to God. A light that was meant to remind us once again of “God with us,” to remind us that we are called to prepare the way of the Lord, maybe even a call that we are to continue to look for and follow that star that shines in the night.
We speak of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love leading up to Christmas and yet throughout the history of God with his people, with the world, there has always been hope, peace, joy, and love. The birth of a baby was just a reminder to us that we are called to live these everyday of our lives.
Many of us take our decorations, our trees, the poinsettias, and wreaths for granted and yet they too point us back to God, back to God’s work in the world, God’s love for all of creation that has been since the beginning of time, manifest in the birth of a child.
It is Christmas Day and I ask you to live in hope, to find some peace, to feel joy at God’s love for all of creation, and to spread love to all we meet.
I would like to end with a poem by Howard Thurman called “The Work of Christmas”
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among the people,
To make music in the heart.