Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Symbolism in Christmas

Symbolism is a great thing. I've always had a tendency to think in terms of drawing analogies, and in my Bible reading I've discovered with glee that God seems to enjoy communicating important messages to us by way of symbolism. The Parables Jesus told are extended metaphors. And various important moments in history are themselves symbolic of future events, seeing that God controls history from beginning to end and can arrange it this way. The Ark of Noah was the only means of salvation from the Flood, and this is considered by theologians to be a "type" of Jesus Christ, who later said (in John 10:9) "I am the door; if any man enters by me he shall be saved."

I found that I could assign symbolic meaning to many typical sights from the "Christmas holiday season," such as these:

* evergreen tree. Symbolic of eternal life, one of the gifts God promises to us through Christmas (in the sense that God's arrival on earth in human form was necessary for His death on our behalf that would enable us to receive eternal life). The throwing out of the Christmas Tree at the end of the season can symbolize either that Christ, who is Life (John 14:6), and was cut off for the sins of God's chosen people (Isaiah 53:8), or it can symbolize man's life, which is like a "fading flower" (Isaiah 40:6-8), and while it wears a veneer of eternity, apart from God (the roots of the tree, one could suppose), the tree dies, and is destroyed.
* the lights can symbolize the "Light of the World" that Jesus is (John 8:12), which enables us to see and not walk in darkness.
* the significance of red, the other main Christmas color, can be taken to contrast with green (eternal life) to represent the blood of Christ. It reminds us of His death on the Cross, and its intertwining with green is a memorial of the fact that His death is what makes possible our future life.

And on and on and on. But these comparisons are not my preference, for a twofold reason: One, I can't be completely certain that these parallels were the original intent of the designers of those aspects of the present celebration, and I prefer to honor original intent. Two, the holiday today is so far removed from anything having to do with Christ that I've been treated to commercials of salespeople singing "Go go go go go, shop shop shop shop," boxer-clad (otherwise undressed) 20-something males doing hip-thrusts as "we wish you a merry Christmas" plays as if their testicles were metallic bells, and an ad campaign featuring "the Gifter," an imaginary movie trailer about a woman who "never settles, but always saves"--money, on gifts. 

This isn't what the holiday should be about, as I see it. Consumerism, porn, selfishness...What does this have to do with the free gift of God to save people from their sins? Only that they represent the very things that God wants to save us from: idols. The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).

What I was intrigued to discover was that the first gifts on Christmas were not simply objects of material wealth. Instead, they THEMSELVES were also symbolic.

Gold is symbolic of the splendor of royalty, and was given to Christ to show that the wise men recognized Him as their KING.

Frankincense is a smoky substance which was used in Temple rites, where the High Priests would offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of the People's sins, and it was given to Christ to show that the wise men recognized Him as their HIGH PRIEST (Hebrews 8)

Myrrh is an embalming agent used on corpses to make them smell less worse, in preparation for burial, and it was given to Christ to show that the wise men recognized Him as their SAVIOR, who had come to be born so that He could one day die, giving His life for theirs.

In light of this knowledge, considering that giving gifts in the sense of granting objects of desire to people was not the original intent of the gift-giving at Christ's birth, I am resistant to making it a staple of my future life when I have a spouse and children. Giving items to one another is a thing that can be done year round, and is more joyous when done spontaneously, not as a requirement. When a special occasion comes around that offers reflection on the past and the future, I think memories are the important thing to create. And I believe that any gifts I do give are going to be symbolic gifts, to serve as mementos and reminders of the important things in life. I'm still thinking out the specifics, but the general outline of how I want to do Christmas, if we even do a celebration at the same time as the rest of the world does, has taken shape in my head.

Symbolism, not traditions that aren't understood by those keeping them. A focus on the intangible gifts God has already given to and promised to us, rather than an eagerness for material blessings, which fade away.

What will you celebrate in years to come, and how? ~ Rak Chazak

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