Advent symbols

By: OSV Newsweekly

Call it a custom or maybe a ritual. Every Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent, I go into my garage and retrieve my Christmas wreath, “permanent,” or made of silk. Then, reverently, I place my wreath of the front door.

I am reverent, because my wreath inspires me to observe Advent and to understand Christmas. It declares to one and all that Jesus, born the son of Mary and the Son of God in Bethlehem two millennia ago, is the savior of the world who died for us on Calvary.

How does the wreath make this statement? First, it is holly, an evergreen, surviving the coldest winters. It is round, no beginning or end. The Lord’s love is without end. Its leaves end in sharp points, reminding us of the crown of thorns. Its berries are bright red, recalling the drops of the Precious Blood of Jesus that flowed from the Lord’s pierced brow. Finally, festooning the wreath is a luxurious red satin bow, with long streamers. The Lord shed all his blood for us on the cross.

Think about it. Almost all the decorations of Christmas make religious statements. Many emphasize not the Lord’s birth, but the crucifixion.

If any color is associated with Christmas, it is red: red shirts, red coats, red hats, red scarves and red ribbons — not baby blue, or even white, the color of innocence. Red refers to the crucifixion of Jesus.

Rare is the home without a Christmas tree. Christmas trees represent the cross. They are never bleak and dreary, but sparkle with light and golden, gleaming fruit, representing how the cross bore the fruit of our salvation.

The poinsettia is the special Christmas plant. Its large, bright red leaves symbolize Christ’s blood. The bracts are the nails that bound Jesus to the cross. The multiple leaves represent the Star of Bethlehem, its beams sweeping outward. Hundreds of years ago, Spanish Franciscan missionaries saw the poinsettia in Mexico, where the plant originated, and used it to speak of Christ.

Why the red bird? Why not an eagle? Why not a sparrow, mentioned so beautifully in the Gospels? The legend is that ancestors of red birds were plain and ugly. Then a little bird, which everyone scorned, landed beneath the cross of Jesus. A drop of the Lord’s blood fell onto the bird, and the bird was wonderfully transformed. Since then, the bird has been gloriously bright, its feathers proclaiming the love of Jesus for the most ignored and despised.

Gifts represent the gold, frankincense and myrrh brought by the magi. Each is offered in brilliant wrappings to be worthy of presentation to a child of God. We all are God’s children.

The jubilant carols remind us of the songs of the angels that first Christmas night. Candles in the windows say that, unlike the inn in Bethlehem, our home is open to the Holy Family, and the light of Christ shines in our homes because the Lord shines in us.

Families gather for wonderful dinners, with the most delicious of dishes, to recall for us that God provides for us with the eternal banquet of heaven, where love and peace never cease.

For Catholics, the great moment is Christmas Mass. Even Catholics who never practice their faith attend Mass on Christmas.

What about Santa Claus, Dutch for “St. Nicholas.” “Good ole St. Nick” was bishop of Myra, in modern Turkey, 1,700 years ago. He cared for the poor, especially poor children. We take time to center our attention on children, precious and unique in God’s loving Providence.

My Christmas wreath helps me in observing Advent. Whenever I see it, I remember what it says. Jesus loves each and every person with an everlasting, unending love. He died for us. He died for me.

May we celebrate Advent by preparing to receive the Lord in our own hearts.

This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.


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