Hanging of the Christmas Green at FBCAP
The Meaning of the Service
Since the second-century, Christians have set aside a time of the year to commemorate and remember the incarnation of the Son of God through the birth of Jesus Christ. Though cultures, traditions, and decorations may change; the truth of the gospel that is made clear during the Advent and Christmas season remains the same.
When Adam and Eve fell into sin, all of humanity fell with them. But even as God was pronouncing judgment on them, he promised a future deliverer and Savior who would come. When cursing the serpent, God said these words,
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 ESV)
Even from the beginning, God made a promise to conquer sin and to crush the head of the serpent. This is the promise of Christmas: that God has come to deliver us from sin and the power of Satan.
We will be decorating our Sanctuary with different items today, each meant to illustrate something about the gospel to us.
As we see familiar Christmas decorations being displayed this morning, we hope that they will be filled with new meaning for those whose hope is in Jesus, the Light of the World.
The Christmas Wreaths
When God created the world, it was an act of pure joy as His beauty and wisdom were written on everything that had been made. The Apostle Paul reminds us of this in Romans 1
“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:20 ESV)
And the Psalmist declared, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”(Psalm 19:1 ESV)
So God’s nature can be perceived through the things he has made. God communicates small parts of himself through the simplest things like the rushing waters, the mountain peaks, or the wind blowing through the trees.
At Christmastime, we hang wreaths. Most people think nothing of putting a wreath on their door; it’s just something you do because it’s Christmas after all. But what if a lesson could be learned in something as simple as a Christmas wreath?
The circle carries tremendous significance when we think about the nature of God. Just as God has no beginning and no end, so the circle of the Christmas wreath is without beginning and end. God is eternal. As the Psalm declares, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:2 ESV)
The color of the Christmas wreath is green, reminding us that God is the source and creator of all life. Without him, there would be nothing. He is the Creator, sustainer, and provider of all things and as such, He alone has every right to demand worship and adoration from His creatures.
Garland and Pew Bows
Unfortunately, even though Paul says that God reveals himself in many ways through the created world; there’s a big problem.
Instead of turning to thank God for creation and the blessings he gives; men naturally turn to idols. Whether this is by worshipping created things like trees, rocks, and carved images or arrogantly trusting in our own power and might; the hearts of men are factories for idols.
In that same passage we read earlier, Paul goes on saying, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things… they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” (Romans 1:21-25 ESV)
Even though men turn to idols and refuse to worship God; God still loves all creation, including humanity. Though many will always refuse God and will always be rebels against him and his Law; God promises mercy and pardon to those who turn to him.
Even when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God showed mercy by covering their shame. When they ate the forbidden fruit, out first parents were made aware of their nakedness and were ashamed and tried to cover themselves with leaves.
But God in his kindness made them clothing from animal skins so that they might not be ashamed. Not only that, but he made a promise to one day deliver not only them, but all of humanity from the curse of sin and death.
The evergreen we will hang tonight reminds us of God’s eternal faithfulness and mercy toward us, his sinful creatures. Even though we deserve nothing more than death and hell, God’s infinite patience and mercy offers pardon and redemption. But this pardon does not come without a price.
Just like Adam and Eve’s nakedness was covered by a sacrificial animal, our sins must also be atoned for by nothing less than a blood-sacrifice. The red of the pew bows will remind us of the blood that God required throughout the Old Testament.
But these blood sacrifices were not the end of God’s plan. No, but they pointed to something far greater than themselves, one perfect sacrifice that would be once and for all: the sacrifice of a perfect, spotless lamb.
“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-24 ESV)
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-7 ESV)
Those words by the Apostle Paul to the Galatians contain the beauty of the Christmas story and the whole of the gospel. The eternal Son of God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ so that he might offer himself as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of humanity.
No more sacrifices of birds and goats and rams were needed; nor was there any more need for a high priest because Jesus became our High Priest and our perfect sacrifice when he offered himself on the cross.
Christmas is a time of beauty and light, but only because Christ endured a season of suffering and anguish on our behalf.
Paul said, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)
Because Jesus became our sin and crucified it to the cross, we are able to be the very righteousness of God. That’s what makes this a season of light, a season of love, and a season of beauty.
Without the cross of Christ at the center; our celebration would be meaningless and we would still be in our sins. The poinsettias that we will display tonight have been given in honor of loved ones from families of our church; but their significance goes far deeper.
When we look at the poinsettia, we are reminded again of the suffering of Jesus. The red reminds us of his blood. Jesus said this was the blood of the New Covenant. It is the only blood that makes us right with God. The points of the flower remind of the nails and spear that pierced Jesus’ hands, feet, and side and the crown of thorns that pierced his brow.
By this simple flower, we are reminded of the great price that Jesus paid for our salvation. As we remember Christ’s sacrifice, let us also remember that this great gift makes Christmas as special as it is.
Men are sinful and in need of a Savior. God, in love and mercy sent his only Son, Jesus to be the Savior so that by offering himself as a sacrifice, Christ would save all of those who believe in him. That’s the story of Christmas, and it’s the story of the gospel.
When Jesus entered the world, he came as a light shining in a dark place. The Prophet Isaiah said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” (Isaiah 9:2 ESV)
This was foretelling a time when the light of God would break through the darkness of the world with the birth of Jesus Christ to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem.
Indeed, not only did Jesus represent the light of God to humanity, but he himself is “the light of the world.”
But even Jesus didn’t stop there, but he said, ““You are the light of the world.” Who was he talking to? He was talking to us, his followers, his disciples. Yes, Jesus is the light of the world who shows the way to God, but he has also called us to be lights in the world; lights that point the way to him.
Before he left earth, Jesus gave his disciples this mission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)
The mission Jesus left us is to shine as his lights in the world; to shine the light of the gospel in a world of sin and darkness. As we light the candles in the window, let us remember that Christ has commanded us to not only celebrate, but share the joy of the Christmas message.
(Script was written by Rev. Matthew Price and Joy Loomis of FBCAP)