One of the sweetest symbols of Christmas is the Candy Cane. According to folklore, in 1670 the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany asked a local confectioner for some sweet sticks he could give to children during the enactment of the living nativity scene. He asked that they be red and white striped and that the candy maker add a crook at the top. The white stripe was intended to be a symbol of Christ’s sinlessness as the spotless Lamb of God. The red stripe was the symbol of his blood, which was poured out for us for the forgiveness of sin. It was no accident when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming out to the Jordan 30 years after his birth that he cried out in a loud voice, Behold, the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world!
The crook at the top of the candy stick was meant to remind us of Jesus who came to be our Good Shepherd, the one who gave up everything in order to save the one that was lost. The sweet thing is that once we were lost, but now we are found because Jesus is our Good Shepherd. This little piece of candy is loaded with meaning.
Sometimes people are so captured by their failures and their losses that they feel they are beyond God’s reach. The truth is that there is no depth to which we can sink that God’s love is not deeper still. No one who is willing to flee to him in faith will ever be beyond his grasp. Now that’s a sacrifice worth celebrating!
International border crossings are scary places. I’ve probably experienced close to 100 crossings, yet each time my heart rate picks up and I start running through answers to potential questions in my head. How long will you be here? Where are you staying? Have you been near farm animals? I’ve never had anything to hide or any rational reason to fear an immigration officer. Still, they scare me. It’s like going to the doctor, but worse.
And if I’m honest, I’m one of the lucky ones who really don’t have reason to fear. Many people crossing borders don’t do so by choice. Many have been forced from their homes, fleeing war, gangs, or political oppression. If they are turned away, an uncertain return home awaits. If they are allowed in, they still may face periods of detention, harsh conditions in refugee camps, and discrimination from native populations. Their fear of border crossings is real.
When Jesus crossed from Israel to Egypt as a two-year old, he may have been unaware of the fear his parents felt. Fleeing a government official willing to sacrifice many children in order to kill their son, Mary and Joseph knew they could not stay in Bethlehem. Their future as refugees in Egypt was less than certain, but God had told them to go, and that was enough.
I have no idea what it would have looked like to cross the border to Egypt back then, or which route they would have taken. They didn’t have border guards and passport inspections, at least not as we know them today. But the feeling of crossing over would have been there. The unknown. The fear. But also the confident hope that God had sent them there. That he was doing something in the world, something important enough to send this little family into hiding.
Above is a picture of the main Israel/Egypt crossing at Taba. Let it fuel your imagination as you consider Jesus, the refugee who would save the world.
Do you find that you are lacking joy and peace this holiday season? It is no surprise to me that the months of November through December can be an excruciating time of year for those who have experienced loss. In addition to the death of a loved one, divorce, illness, etc. can cause serious depression during the holidays.
As I was talking to someone who had experienced divorce several years ago said to me, “Everyone assumed I was spending the day with someone else. I already felt like a loser therefore, I was too embarrassed to say, “Excuse me but I have nowhere to go for the holidays. Can I come to your house?” And as I think back many years ago to my first marriage, the first Christmas after my divorce was by far the worst holiday of my life.
You will be ambushed by pain. The holidays can be a painful reminder of what once was and no longer is. Your emotions can surprise you, and catch you off guard. As people share their Christmas stories with me, one of the phrases that I hear quite often is “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that. Your emotions can be intense and unpredictable.
Don’t let your loss however, become the lens through which you view all life’s circumstances. And don’t limit your thinking to Jesus birth. Consider what he came to do. He came with purpose, and it’s personal. The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is nothing if it is not personal. He entered this world took on human flesh, and died on a cross to bear your sin. He came to defeat sin & sorrow. He came to a fallen broken world to people who are both sinners and sufferers, and he came to deal with the root of all those things.
This is what the Gospel of Jesus is about, a Savior who comes to the scene of pain, sorrow, and weeping with compassion, with comfort, and with the power to save.
One of the many jarring realities that overseas missionaries experience is the separation from family and the need to create new traditions around the holidays. For us and our children, living in England meant we couldn’t go over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house. There was no Christmas Eve dinner with the Passerelli clan, no grilled-cheese sandwiches (like the Wise Men ate) for Christmas lunch at the McKee’s. We had to create new ways of celebrating the holiday, new traditions to remember and look forward to each year.
One of those habits was formed during our first year in London, when our children were just 4 and 5 years old. One evening in early December we read the Christmas story from Matthew 1:18-24. We read it again the following night, and each night after that leading up to Christmas. Soon our girls began to know the story and fill in missing words when I would leave a space. This is how the birth of… “Jesus Christ!” …came about.
We started to read it with real emotion and to have fun with the words. We would whisper “…he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” And we would give the angel a loud, deep voice when he said “JOSEPH, SON OF DAVID.” Our girls struggled to say ‘righteous man’ and ‘Immanuel’, and learned about the Holy Spirit and being ‘with child.’
Those evenings were a beautiful time for our family as we told and retold to each other the story of God with us, come to save his people from their sins. We developed other traditions in following years, but we always come back to ‘This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…’ at least once every Christmas. As you read it, enjoy, and feel free to have fun with the words…
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man, and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).