Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Colors of Christmas: Red and Green

In recent years the Christmas holiday, at least as the world celebrates it, is becoming less and less about Christ and more about foolish fables (2 Timothy 4:4). Nativity scenes are replaced by Santa Claus, Rudolph and Frosty; Christmas pageants give way to Winter Festivals, and stores say Happy Holidays so as not to offend Muslims or those of other religions.

The early Christians adopted a code so that they could identify with each other and communicate with each other even in times of persecution. The Jesus fish symbol originated from initials that spell “fish” in Greek, or “IXOYE” but stand for "Jesus, Christ, God's Son, Savior." This was a form of witness and also helped Christians distinguish between friend and foe. When traveling, if a Christian met another person, the Christian would draw half the fish (half a crescent) in the sand. If the other person completed the fish, he or she was also a Christian.

Persecution of believers will increase as Christ’s second coming draws near (Matthew 5:11-12). Although Christians are not yet being persecuted in the United States, our right to display symbols and statements of Christianity is already being challenged, and even military chaplains are warned not to pray in Jesus’ name. The Ten Commandments are leaving some courthouses; “One nation under God” is being questioned in the Pledge of Allegiance; Christian prayer is no longer allowed in public schools; and recently atheists were allowed to put up a sign ridiculing faith right next to a manger scene. 

It may become useful to have a symbolic code, so that when we see the bright colors of winter decorations, we can remind ourselves and each other of the true meaning of Christmas. In this season, born-again believers celebrate God so loving the world that He sent His only Son to us in human form (John 3:16, 1:14)  In that way, Jesus could know and suffer all that we do, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He died for all our sins as the perfect sacrifice, reconciling sinners with a holy and just God, so that all who ask for forgiveness of their sin and turn to Him can have eternal life  (2 Corinthians 5:4,18-19; Hebrews 2:17).

We can use the colors of Christmas as a way to witness to unsaved people, so that if they admire a beautiful Christmas tree, we can explain the symbolism of the colors. This may open the door for us to talk about Christ and to share what He has done for us.

For centuries, Christians have used many commonplace objects to witness to others and as a reminder of their faith. Our five fingers can represent different types of people we should remember in prayer; and a deck of cards helps us remember the Word of God (One God, Two Testaments, Three for the Trinity, Four Gospels, etc.). A German choirmaster designed the candy cane to symbolize the story of Christ; and the song “Twelve Days of Christmas” represents different elements of the Christmas story.

God Himself, the Master Designer (John 1:3; Genesis 1-2), liberally used symbols in His creation to tell salvation’s story. The sand dollar bears the image of the poinsettia, the Easter lily, and the Star of Bethlehem; has five piercings like those Christ received on the cross; and contains white doves symbolizing the Holy Spirit. Even the Abyssinian variety of donkey that tradition says carried Mary into Bethlehem bears the mark of the cross on its back.

Similarly, the colors we traditionally associate with Christmas each have special meanings that reflect different aspects of Christ’s life and God’s plan of salvation.

Green is the traditional color of the Christmas tree, with the evergreen representing eternal life because its needles are always green. If we trust in the promises of God’s Word, we too will never die, but will enjoy eternal life with Him in Heaven (John 3: 16; 1 Corinthians 15). Green gives the promise of new life that we see in the first green leaves of spring. Just as the tree in winter looks dead, we are dead in sin until we are born again by repenting of our sins and asking Christ into our hearts as our personal Savior (John 3:3; Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13). In Chirst, we are a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17).

But Christ came not only to give us eternal life, but more abundant life here and now! (John 10:10). At least in the United States, green is also the color of money, and all people depend on the food energy of green plants for their physical sustenance (Genesis 9:3). Green therefore reminds us that God will always provide for our physical as well as our spiritual needs (Matthew 7:11; Psalm 23:2; 52:8).

A green light is also a universal traffic signal that means Go! Jesus’ last words to His disciples before ascending into Heaven were to Go and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). It encourages us to follow the Holy Spirit so that we will go forward on our Christian walk, growing more like Jesus every day, following God’s perfect will for our lives.

At Christmas time, we enjoy the colors green and red together in the holly plant and its berries. Like the pine, the holly is evergreen, and the needle-sharp, prickly leaves remind us of the crown of thorns worn by Christ as He was crucified (John 19:5). The red berries symbolize each drop of precious blood Jesus shed for us on Calvary’s cross for the remission of our sins (Matthew 26:28):. His blood washes us clean so that when God sees us, He sees not our sin, but the perfect sacrifice of His blameless Son (Hebrews 9: 11-13; John 1:7).

Red and green also adorn the poinsettia, which is another Christmas symbol of how God meets the needs of believers in Him (Matthew 6:8,32). The legend of this plant tells of a poor boy from a Mexican village who wanted to give the Holy Child a gift but had no money. In desperation, he picked some weeds on his way to church to leave as his gift. He prayed to God to help him show his love, and God answered by turning the weeds into a beautiful star-shaped flower with bright red leaves.

Just as “green” means go, “red” means stop – - our sinful ways, our wicked thoughts, our sinful lifestyle (1 Peter 4:1). And yet, red also symbolizes fire or passion. God wants us to be on fire for Him as He is a consuming fire (Heb.12:29; Revelation 19:12), our hearts burning with His Word (Jeremiah 20:9; Luke 24:32) and our lives burning brightly with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3).

As we admire the bright red and green of the season, may these colors ignite our passion for Christ, Who came in the flesh to save us! May we boldly proclaim His love to others gathered around the holiday décor! As we shall see in future posts, white snow, silver tinsel and bells, and gold ornaments all have their own tale to tell of the Good News!

© 2013 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Thankful in All Things?

Thanksgiving is a time when we count our blessings and thank and praise the Lord for them. But it is just one day in the year, and should we not thank our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave us life, breath, and salvation, every day? (John 10:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; 2 Timothy 3:15)

Of course we should, but if we are honest with ourselves, we admit it is easier to give thanks on some days than on others. Songs of praise and thanksgiving arise in our hearts and even flow from our lips (Psalm 69:30; 147:7; Ephesians 5:19) when we see our loving family seated around the holiday table to enjoy a bountiful feast, in our beautiful home, perhaps with presents already wrapped and under the shining Christmas tree.

But what if our life is not so idyllic at the moment? What happens if there is an empty chair at the table, filled just last year by a loved one who since stepped out into eternity? What if family members are separated by distance, time constraints, demands of the world, or even lack of caring for one another? What if financial hardship means there are no presents under the tree, or even food on the table?

The writings of the apostle Paul are sometimes difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16) and even harder to live by, for he said to “Rejoice always, and again I say, rejoice!” He warned against vengeance when confronted by evil in others, instead focusing on what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:15-16, 21-22).

We could argue that we can be excused from rejoicing if we are suffering from chronic illness, disability, relentless pain, mental anguish, poverty, danger, or loss of a loved one. But if anyone should know about suffering, it was Paul, who wrote this verse from a cold, dank prison cell, separated from loved ones except by pen, paper and prayer.

Paul had to endure shipwreck, beating, stoning, near drowning, imprisonment, persecution (2 Corinthians 11:23-26), snake bite, and a physical ailment that he had begged God to remove. Three times Paul prayed for God to heal him, only to hear God say three times that he would not, for His grace is sufficient, and His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Through the instruction of the indwelling Holy Spirit,
Paul learned to be content, or thankful, through bad times as well as good (Philippians 4:12).

In all circumstances, Paul encouraged us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and we can see throughout his epistles that he followed his own (Spirit-inspired) advice. Then he went on to make the most shocking command of all: “In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Notice that Paul did not say to give thanks for all things, but in all things. We do not have to give thanks for our house burning down in a fire, but in this situation, we can thank God that no one was at home, and praise Him for sparing our life and the lives of our family.  We do not have to give thanks for having cancer, but we can thank Him that it was diagnosed early and that there are excellent doctors and effective treatments.

Perhaps the situation is even more dire, as it was with Job, who lost his sons, his wealth, his possessions in a few moments (Job 1), and his health shortly thereafter (Job 2). Our limited human vision may not see any silver lining in the cloud, for we naturally focus on the obstacles that block our view from the blessings God has in store. Yet Job was able to say, “The LORD gave; the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the LORD.”

We may fail to understand how God could possibly deliver us from our insurmountable problems, but His arm is not too short to save us (Isaiah 59:1). Nothing is impossible with God (Matthew 19:26), and He will make a way when there is no way! (2 Samuel 22:33; 1 Corinthians 10:13). God is love (1 John 4:8) and has infinite love for us, desiring to shower us with blessings (Ezekiel 34:26). Yet so often we see the menacing clouds and feel the downpour, but we forget that these will bring flowers and bountiful harvest!

Paul writes that we should thank God in all things, for this is His will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:18). In other words, God desires that we thank and praise Him in all situations. Furthermore, whatever befalls His children is His will for us, because He allowed it, working all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Praise God that His thoughts and ways are higher than ours! (Isaiah 55:9)

Giving thanks in all things reminds us of God’s mercy, which spares us from punishment we justly deserve for our sins. David, whose fellowship with God was disrupted by the snowballing effect of sin, gave thanks to God for His mercy and deliverance from his enemies. He even wrote that we can no longer give thanks from the grave, which should encourage us to obey and honor God in this way while we still have the breath to do so! (1 Chronicles 16:29-36; Psalm 6; 18:46-50; 30; 136).

Counting our blessings, and naming them one by one, as the hymn writer encourages us to do, is a wonderful way to be thankful in all things. No matter how severe the trial you may be going through right now, here are a few that come to mind. If you are reading this, you are alive; you have the precious gift of sight; you are literate; and you have access to the Internet, which places a world of information, Bible resources, and contact with fellow believers at your fingertips.

If you are born again (John 3:3-8) by placing your faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), you have the greatest reason of all to thank God! You have the gift of abundant and eternal life, forever with Jesus Christ and your loved ones in Him, ultimately in a glorified body (1 Corinthians 15:35-54) that will never age, die, sin, or feel pain, sickness, or sorrow!

Giving thanks and praise to God in all things acknowledges Who He is – our Creator (Genesis 1:1), Sustainer (Colossians 1:17), and Redeemer (Job 19:25; Psalm 19:14; Isaiah 41:14). He is perfect Love, Light (John 1:9), and Truth (Titus 1:2), completely just, righteous, and holy (Isaiah 5:16). Although we deserve eternal punishment in hell, He showers us with mercy, love, and grace in our life here on earth, and everlasting rewards in Heaven (Romans 6:23). In all things, we can thank Him for the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), joy in His salvation (Psalm 51:12; Isaiah 61:10), and wisdom to follow His lead (James 1:5).  

Even as Jesus drew near to the agony of His crucifixion, He gave thanks as He contemplated the imminent sacrifice of His shed blood and broken body, given to pay our sin debt in full. (Mark 14:23; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24). We have reason to give thanks even when facing the sting of death, sin and the grave, for He triumphed over these enemies by rising from the dead (1 Corinthians 15: 55-57).

No matter our grave our circumstances, He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and He gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord! Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15).

© 2017 Laurie Collett