As we begin this holiday season, most of us like to decorate our homes. When I was growing up, I had no idea that even the decorations were meant to focus us on the reason we celebrate Christmas. As I got older and moved churches, I got introduced to the “Hanging of the Greens” service. In this service, each symbol of decoration is explained with the meaning of the Christ child in which we are celebrating. As you are hanging your greens and decorating your house this year, I would like to focus you on Jesus.
The Christmas tree is an evergreen. It doesn’t die with the cold winter weather like most trees. Ancient Romans believed the 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. Holly and ivy, along with pine and fir, are called evergreens because they never change color. They are ever-green, ever-alive, even in the midst of winter. They symbolize the unchanging nature of our God, and they remind us of the everlasting life that is ours through Christ Jesus. In Isaiah 60:13 we find these words: “The Glory of Lebanon shall come unto you, the fir tree, the pine tree and the box together, to beautify the place of your sanctuary.”
The Poinsettia is a many-pointed star that has become a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem. There are two legends involving this flower. The first explains its origin. A little boy having nothing to give the baby Jesus prayed, and as he did the flower grew at his feet. He picked the blossom and gave it to the child. The second tells that the poinsettia was white, representing the glory of Christ, but when Jesus died on the cross, the blossom changed to blood red.
The sprigs of Holly so signs of Christ’s passion. The thorny leaves and stems remind us of the crown of thorns placed upon His head. The red berries symbolize the blood of the Savior shed for us, His everlasting gift.
From the beginning of Christmas celebrations, gift-giving has been a part of the season. The Wise Men gave out of their treasures, and the Shepherds gave of themselves. Both express the Gift of God in the most precious gift to us – the gift of a Savior. Gifts also symbolize the unselfish and generous nature of Jesus. We can view it as a way to emulate His goodness to us.
One of the most heartwarming expressions of Christmas is the Nativity. The Nativity speaks of the mystery of God’s wisdom. Why God chose to send his son into our world as a baby of humble birth, born in common surroundings, we do not know. What we do know is that God reached out to all people, including the poor and wealthy, the simple and the wise, the powerless and the powerful. All who found him knelt in humility before him. Knowing God is possible because He came to us at our level. Whenever we see a Nativity we find ourselves with Mary and Joseph; with the Shepherds, and with the Wise Men; bowing before the manger, overwhelmed by God’s expression of love in coming to us.
I hope as you decorate this year, you take time to reflect on each of these symbols. Each provides a way for us to worship the baby Jesus and the glory that His birth brought into each of our lives. I wish all of you a wonderful Holiday season.