Friday, December 20, 2013
Shining lights for Jesus
I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
The modern custom of having a Christmas tree was introduced to England by Prince Albert, who of course was from the German royal family. The tree thing was an old Norse custom which later became part of the Christian tradition as the gospel message spread north through Europe. The first decorated tree appeared in the Baltic city of Riga in 1510, and a couple of decades later it was Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, who first added lighted candles to a tree.
The Victorian touch
So Prince Albert was simply introducing a custom that for him was three centuries old already. Victorians loved splendour, and soon were mass-producing little clips and miniature candles to hold candles on the branches. This was still the way until about 50 years ago when miniature electric lights were more affordable. This was in a world that knew not the words ‘risk assessment’ but it really wasn’t dangerous if the candles were positioned carefully. And there was another reason, too – the tree would be fresh, not dry and dropping needles, because bringing the tree in and decorating it was done on Christmas Eve, and it was only on Christmas Day, that special day, that the candles would be lit and watched in a (safe) blaze of glory.
The ‘Jesus Light of the World’ imagery seems obvious to us, but in addition the Victorians would have taught their children that the lighted tree was a symbol of the star of Bethlehem, which guided the Magi to the dwelling place of Jesus.
Bigger trees in cities were also popular, especially after Thomas Edison’s assistant Edward Johnson created a Christmas Tree lit with electric bulbs in New York City in 1882.
Window lights to the world
Have you wondered why we put lights, and especially candles, on window ledges? Putting a candle by a window is an old Irish custom and back in the day they believed that the light would guide the Christ Child, who on the eve of Christmas wandered from house to house. Don’t ask me to find a Bible verse to anchor that one, but when we light up the Chapel windows in that way, we are making a simple statement about being people of light in a place of light, inviting others to draw close to the light.
Come near to God and He will come near to you
And the holly wreath on the door? Superstitiously, this was about warding off witches and evil spirits – but stay with me on this one for a moment. The imagery of the holly wreath is a strong symbol of the crown of thorns forced on Jesus’ head during his trial, with the red berries reminding us of the first drops of His blood that were shed for us during that time. So to put a household or meeting place ‘under the blood of the Lord Jesus’ – and to pray over the wreath and declare those words – is a powerful and practical thing to do at this time of year. Why? The focus we bring on Christ-centred devotion, worship and celebration is hated by the darkness, and left unchecked it can bring opposition in the form of an increase of spiritual activity of a harmful kind. So we stop that, in order that everyone in our hills and valleys may be blessed this Christmas.