Eternal Love, warm and new and ancient and beautiful, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger . . . the Lamb of the ages, helpless and scented with fresh-birth and sweet straw and the clear, thin scent of the cold night air. And He is Emmanuel, God with us, God with His people, the Firstborn of Creation with the late-born of men.
He is here, in our hearts, His presence within us, His presence all around us, His presence speaking to us through His creation. We light a candle. The lovely glimmer of light for remembrance. We remember and we are hushed and His presence is with us—not through the candle, but the candle helps us to remember. Helps us to remember, because we so easily forget and are burdened, heavy-weighed with the stresses and the visiting and the baking and the relatives and the bustle of the season. Helps us to quiet our hurrying hearts and remember.
And I think of the film The Nativity Story and the wise man bending low before the tiny King and offering his myrrh of remembrance, the myrrh that speaks of the Sacrifice yet to be made—a tangible symbol of what is to come, the anointing of His body for burial after the crucifixion. Symbols, remembrances. We are human and so easily forget. Sometimes in His compassion towards us, the Lord provides a symbol, a means to help us to remember.
We don’t need the Advent wreath, the poinsettias, the Nativity scene so gently and lovingly placed in our homes, the lights, the crisp green wreaths, the carols playing in our cars, the meaningful Advent hymns sung in our churches. But they may help us to remember. And we so easily forget. Forget what Christmas is all about—the King of glory coming down to us in innocence and holy light and dwelling among us. God with us; Glory with us—to the praise of His glory.
One of the Christmas traditions that sticks in my mind is the Christmas Eve service in the church of my childhood. At the very end of the service, the lights were dimmed and we each held a candle and sang "Silent Night" with our brothers and sisters. And our hearts were hushed in that quiet country church and we remembered together that silent night long ago when the Sacrifice lay in a crude manger and came in humility, mainly unnoticed by the world at large.
A small number compared to the vast armies of men and women celebrating materialism and “good cheer” and “giving” at parties and in homes around the world, but we gathered around the Sacrifice, gathered quietly, as they did so many years ago. We gathered quietly and we sang reverently and we pondered afresh what the Almighty had done for our souls. And we brought Him glory and wonder, as the Wise Men did, and we brought Him adoration and reverence, as the shepherds did, and we layed our souls low before Him, the Humble God-Man who was and is and is to come.
And we quietly left the sanctuary and our hearts were hushed and our spirits were lifted and we went our separate ways to our homes and we slept in our beds that are not straw but are warm and comfortable and we thought of the One for Whom we lighted a candle. And we thought of the light that burns brightly in our hearts, the Spirit of Truth and Grace, the One that the world will not receive, but by His grace and mercy, we have received.
Symbols are not necessary, but they are important. They leave visual pictures in our minds and impress upon us the importance of certain events, people, days, times. The lighting of a candle, the meaning behind the candy cane, the names of Jesus--“Lamb,” the “Good Shepherd,” the Rod of Jesse, the King of Kings—all evoking vivid pictures- symbols, of our Lord.
The symbols are not to be worshiped, but they help us to worship the One whom they represent. They help us to remember. They help us to pause and to think and to wonder. We are not bound by tradition, but tradition touches us, touches our souls and preserves something of the sacred surrounding certain events. Tradition keeps something for us, keeps the wonder, the significance, holds the key to meaning; tradition is not the meaning itself, but a means.
This is one of the reasons that I enjoy J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings so much—his books are full of symbolism and wonder and imagination—so many things in them remind me of truths in the Scriptures and I think that the Lord allowed this for a reason—that even a fictional story can be used to point to the one True Story. And this is just what symbols can do--point us to truth.
Next Week: Part 2
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