Dec 29 2013

The Holly and the Ivy

_CES2786It’s the Fifth Day of Christmas.  I actually enjoy these quieter, less hectic, days of the Christmas season.  There are far fewer distractions and that makes it easier for me to focus on the true reason for Christmas.  There is so much to contemplate when it comes to the Incarnation.  I will never be able to fully grasp the significance of what it meant and means for God to take on human flesh.  I do know, however, that if we focus only on the Christ Child and not the one who would lay down his life for us thirty three years later we miss out on the most important part of the story.  We may like to  focus on the baby in the manger but we must also keep in mind that this child was born to die, to die for you and me.

On December 1 my church had a Hanging of the Greens service.  I had never participated in one, much less led one, so I had to do a good bit of research.  I was surprised by some of the things I discovered.  I knew that the use of holly was commonplace in decorations during the Christmas season but did not know exactly why.  What I learned was that holly and ivy have long been considered signs of Christ’s Passion. Their prickly leaves suggested the crown of thorns, the red berries the blood of the Savior, and the bitter bark the drink offered to Jesus on the cross.

_CES2808I’ve known for a number of years that there was a Christmas carol called “The Holly and the Ivy” but had not paid any attention to the words.  The tune was familiar to me but not the lyrics.  The words to the song point us just as much to the Cross of Jesus as to his manger: The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown, of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown. The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower, and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to be our sweet Savior. The holly bears a berry as red as any blood, and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.  The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn, And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in the morn. The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall, and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.”

The use of holly each Christmas now makes sense to me.  Learning all of this, it will be hard for me to not look upon holly bushes the same in the future.  When I see the thorns and red berries I will remember Christ’s love for us revealed at the Cross.  The denomination I am a part of—The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)—happens to practice weekly Communion.  Every Sunday the bread and the wine point us to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.  I am very thankful that now I have another reminder, one found in nature.  For those with eyes to see the beautiful holly points us to the greatest love and sacrifice of all.


(I took these images at my home in Pikeville, KY.)

Aug 30 2009

Water, Bread and Wine

bread and wineI took the picture above this past Wednesday prior to our Vespers service. I thought I might be able to use it for our church’s website.  Once I got to looking at it, however, I was reminded of an important truth about nature.  The God who created the world and made it good, has also made it holy.

The churches I have grown up in focus on two ordinances or sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Both of these are powerful symbols that portray in graphic fashion the love of God made visible in Jesus Christ.  What we may sometimes miss is that both holy acts make use of basic natural elements.  Baptism, no matter how it is performed, utilizes water.  In Communion we partake of bread that has come from grain grown in the earth; we drink wine or juice that that has been produced by grapes. 

For me this is a reminder that there is a sacramental quality to nature.  In what God has made we have the opportunity to experience His grace.  I am certainly not a pantheist who believes that God is to be equated with the world but I do feel that God permeates Creation and that because He made it and because He cares for it, it is holy.

In God’s hands ordinary water becomes the fountain of life.  Common everyday bread becomes a symbol of the broken body of Christ.  Wine becomes more than a drink, it represents Christ’s blood poured out for our forgiveness.  Remembering this might open the door to a sacramental outlook on nature.  Many a poet and hymnist have taken this path, and so did Jesus.  He found in the flowers of the field and birds of the air reminders of God’s providence and care.  He showed us that water, bread and wine can become a means of grace.

The challenge before us is to discover and celebrate God’s presence in the ordinary things of life.  Just look around you…