December 2015, Pastor's Perspective

Christmas and the Light of Christ

by R. Lee McKinzie

7ImageWaiting. All year long we have been waiting. And now we are reminded that we have to wait just a little bit longer. Will Christmas ever be here? The liturgical season is Advent, and it is that special time the church sets aside each year to prepare to celebrate the coming of the Christ child. The season of Advent proclaims that the Lord is coming, and that he will bring the light of God to the world. Let me ask you: Does your life resemble the light of Christ? Does the way you live show others that the darkness of the world is no longer “in charge,” that the light of Christ shines brightly to show the way? Many religious traditions begin their celebration of the Advent season with the lighting of the Advent Wreath. The Advent Wreath is a simple circle of evergreen branches. The circle is perhaps one of the oldest Judeo-Christian symbols, and it represents that in God there is no beginning and no ending. It is symbolic that the lives we live may be altered by our deaths, but that our lives in Christ will not end. Simply, the light of Christ shines through us. Another of the most striking and the most universal features 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 these 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. Under Christian thought and sentiment, holly became widely used in church celebrations. Holly was considered as the burning bush, and as a symbol of Mary whose being glows with the Holy Spirit. The red berries represented the blood drops from the cruel thorns in the crown of 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 Advent Wreath have four purple candles, all placed equidistant around the outside of the circle. (In the middle of the circle is placed a white candle, known as the Christ Candle. Lighting this candle is done on Christmas Eve and is symbolic of the light of Christ coming into the world. It is lit on Christmas Eve because this is when the season of Christmas begins.) Each of the purple candles of the Advent Wreath has a special meaning, too. The first candle represents the light of Christ as our Hope. The second Sunday the candle is symbolic of the light as Christ illuminating the way. The third candle represents the light of Christ as the bringer of our Joy. (Some religious traditions use a pink or rose colored candle in place of the third purple candle although its meaning of Christ as the bringer of Joy is the same.) And the fourth candle represents to us the light of Christ as the prince of peace. This is what we celebrate during Advent. It is a celebration that recognizes God Himself is coming. It means that when God comes, through Christ, His light will be a shining force for all the world to see. It means that we have hope for living, a model for living as God intends, joy in our lives, and peace that passes all understanding. The third verse of the favorite carol Silent Night, Holy Night, may best express it. Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light; radiant beams from thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at the birth, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth. Christmas and all it means is coming… However, first, we must wait some more. As we wait, we will patiently celebrate because we know He is coming! In the form of a baby! To bring the light of God into our world! May we pray: Our Father, we long for the simple beauty of Christmas – for all the old familiar melodies, words, and symbols that remind us of that night so long ago when the baby Jesus was born.  May the loving kindness of this Advent and the true Spirit of Christmas be found in the way we live, throughout this season and throughout all time. May we be both be assured, and the way we live be an assurance to others that the light of Christ has come into the darkness of this world. In the name of the one whose birth we celebrate, we pray. Amen. BIO: Lee McKinzie is retired from the Louisiana Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, although he serves part-time as the pastor of the Nesom Memorial and the Montpelier United Methodist Churches. Throughout his career he published several articles and study guides, was honored with numerous awards, and held positions of leadership in both the Annual Conference and National Church. He is married and he and his wife have one child.