December 16, 2020
Shirley Knight, Certified Spiritual Director
Once a month, a spiritual director from Seeking the Spirit Within offers a type of prayer you might like to try. This month, with Christmas just a week away, we invite you to do some intentional meditation on the Christmas symbols you see all around you.
Are you one of those people who listen to Christmas songs all year long? Or maybe just from October to January? Or maybe you’ve had just about all the Christmas you need this year already!
Maybe, in the busyness of the Christmas season, you’re one of those folks who gets caught up with a long to-do list, places to be, and shopping to be done. There are always a variety of other things that might pull you away from the true meaning of Christmas. It’s probably complicated this year because of the pandemic. Sound familiar?
Besides backing off altogether, what can you do?
#1. Pray with the symbols and colors of Christmas
You can pray with the symbols and colors connected to Christmas! This prayer helps you watch for signs all around you during this season. It can keep your heart focused on the wonderful gift of Jesus Christ born into the world and into your own soul.
So this year while you are running around trying to get things done in time, keep your eyes searching for symbols of the faith. Look for hints reminding you of this sacred time of year. In the midst of your preoccupation, these symbols can remind you how God is revealing the Divine Self to you.
The symbols and colors are all around you. You’ll see them
- in store decorations
- in front yards
- in your own home Christmas decorations
- on street lamps in some towns
- as jewelry and clothing.
The following are some examples to watch for.
Holly: The holly bush represents immortality, a trait that God has given to each human being. The sharp-toothed edge of the holly leave reminds Christians of the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head. The red holly berry represents Christ’s blood, shed for all people.
Fruit: People give fruit baskets as gifts. The gift of fruit reminds us of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23)
Evergreens: These are plants that remain green all year. Evergreens symbolize perseverance and resilience to adversity. They remind us of our hope.
Christmas tree: There is a tradition for Lutherans that Martin Luther brought the first Christmas tree home for his children. Walking home one cold evening, he looked up through the evergreen trees around him and saw the stars twinkling through them. He wanted his children to remember the evergreen tree’s symbol of eternal life and the Light which came into the world on Christmas morn. He cut down a tree, took it home, and attached candles to it to replicate the trees and stars he had seen.
[Just a reminder: this is not an encouragement to put lit candles on your tree this year! Luther didn’t have the advantage of electricity and LED lights. Our modern replacements accomplish the same goal without the fire risk. 🙂 ]
In other traditions, the Christmas tree represents the original Tree of Paradise, the burning bush which spoke to Moses, the branch of Jesse from which Jesus was born. It reminds us of the life-giving tree of the cross of Christ. The needles and narrow crest point upward, turning our thoughts to heaven. Because the tree is cut down and then erected again, it is a symbol of Christ’s resurrection.
Candy Cane: The candy cane is shaped like a shepherd’s crook, reminding us that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, came into our world at Christmas. The red stripe symbolizes Christ’s sacrifice and the white background, His purity. The peppermint taste is similar to the myrrh given to him by the Magi and used to prepare his body for burial.
Wreaths: The circular shape of the wreath symbolizes eternal life and the unending love of God.
White candles/lights: Remind us that Jesus is the light of the world, and we are called as disciples to bear witness to that light throughout the world.
Red ribbon: When the red ribbon is draped around a tree, it is a reminder that we are wrapped in the gracious act of redemption, gained through the blood of our Christ.
Blue ornaments: They represent heaven, hope and peace.
Purple ornaments: They reflect royalty reminding us of Jesus being the King of Kings.
Yellow: Reminder of the brilliant light that surrounded the angels as they announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds on the hillsides near Bethlehem.
Silver and Gold: These colors remind us of God’s riches like redemption, forgiveness and grace, those things we can’t necessarily see with our eyes.
And #2. Pray with your Nativity Set
During the season of Advent, another type of prayer you can use focuses on your nativity set. Meditate on the image as a whole, listen for God’s voice inviting you to experience Jesus’ birth in a new way this year. As an alternative, spend the Advent season with one piece of your nativity set, or spend a week with one and then choose another one for the next week.
Get to know that character deeply. Read scripture about that person. Who are they? What is their background? How did they get to this point in the story of Jesus’ birth? How was their life changed? What did they have to sacrifice? How do they relate to you and your life? What advice would they give you?
I encourage you to dialogue with that character. Your journal is a great place to write that conversation. Start your prayer asking God to open your heart to the experience of connecting with the character. End your time each day with prayer thanking God for this time and asking God to continue to let the story unfold in your heart throughout the day.
The following are some sample questions to reflect on with some of the characters. Please do not limit your exploration and prayer time to those questions, they are just starting points.
Shepherd: How would you have felt if you were a shepherd when the angel appeared? What made you hesitate to leave your sheep? What would make you go to Bethlehem? Who has been a shepherd for you in your life? How have you experienced being a shepherd to others in your life? What holds you back? How have you experienced God’s presence on your journey? Where is God inviting you to travel at this point in your life? How has Jesus’ birth changed your life?
Joseph: Reflect on Joseph’s journey from his visit with the angel asking him to care for God’s son? What did he have to give up to follow God’s plan? Reflect on how Joseph felt when he arrived in Bethlehem and found out there was no room for him and Mary? When have you experienced those same feelings in your life? How did you find God in the experience?
Mary: Reflect on all the thoughts and emotions Mary experienced since she was asked to carry God’s son to her travel to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus. When have you felt some of those same emotions that Mary experienced? How did your faith impact the experience? What is God desiring to birth in you right now? What is holding you back from responding to God’s invitation?
Innkeeper: Reflect on the innkeeper in the scripture. What do you think made the innkeeper take them to the stable? How can you be an “innkeeper” this Advent season? How you have experienced “no vacancy” in your life”? How have you invited God into the guest room in your heart?
Wise Men: Reflect on their faith, trusting God’s promise of a star to point the way to Jesus’ birth. What do you suppose they left behind? Reflect on the gifts they each brought to Jesus and what they foretold of Jesus’ life. What gifts do you believe they received because of their journey? What gifts do you have to share this Advent season? What does the gift of Jesus in your life mean to you?
Questions to Consider:
- Is there a symbol that keeps appearing? One that catches your attention? Gaze on it. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into a new insight.
- Do you have a favorite Christmas decoration you make sure to put out each year? Why is it a favorite? What’s the story that comes with that piece?
- What Christmas decoration or tradition taps into your spirituality most consistently? Why do you think that is?
Respond to any of those questions in the comments below. We look forward to hearing about your experience and wisdom.
Shirley Knight, Assistant Director of Seeking the Spirit Within and a Certified Spiritual Director.
The following is a link that talks about the colors of Christmas in more detail: https://www.womenoftheelca.org/filebin/pdf/resources/ColorsofChristmas.pdf