PUMC’s Biggest Christmas Mysteries Explained!

Posted by on Dec 22, 2017 in Godprints, Worship & Prayer | 0 comments

Christmas. A time of traditions, music, and symbols.  Around PUMC, we have developed a series of our own traditions that have lasted years and years. 

But as you look at some of the things around the church during these days leading into Christmas, many of us are compelled to ask questions like “What is That?” or “Why does That happen???”  or “What does That mean???”  A lot of times, the answer falls into the ubiquitous snare of “Because we’ve always done it that way.”  We do it this way this year because that’s how we did it last year. 

But, maybe there’s a reason why it was done that way the first time.  Christmas (and every season on the Christian calendar) is loaded with symbols.  The symbols can inspire you and connect you to Christ.  But they turn into meaningless decorations unless you understand the meaning behind them.

And so, this article will attempt to explain three of the “great mysteries” of our celebration of the Advent Season.  Here they are:

  1. What’s that Christmas tree on the right hand side of the chancel?
  2. What’s a “White Gift”?
  3. And… Why does the Christmas Cantata always start at 4:15 PM???

 

1:  What is that Christmas Tree on the Chancel?

On the right hand side of the chancel, next to where the pastor sits, there’s a Christmas Tree with some plain decorations on it.  No Santa Claus, not a bunch of shepherds or nativity scenes.  And most of the decorations are white.  Not much glitter, and no lights.

If you look close you’ll see things like Greek Letters, strange looking crosses, and even water dripping from shells.

The tree is called a Chrismon Tree.  Chrismon means “Chrisitian Monograms.”  This tree is loaded with symbols of Christ which have been used for over 2000 years.  They symbolize different aspects of our faith and remind us of Christ in many different ways.

Here are some of the items that adorn our Chrismon Tree:
(click the arrows to open each drop down box…)

Identity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Some of the Chrismons speak to the identity and character of God.  Here are examples of this type of Chrismons that are on our tree:

 ChiRho

The “X” (Chi) and “P” (Rho) are the first two letters in the word Christos ( or “Christ”)  which is Greek for “Messiah”- the Anointed One.

 Alpha and Omega

These are the first and last  letters of the Greek alphabet.  They tell us that Christ was at the beginning of the world, and He’ll be with us forever.

 IHS

If you spelled out “Jesus” in Greek, these would be the first three letters of His Name.

 Circled Triangle

The triangle represents the “Three in One” Godhead (the Trinity of Father, Spirit, and Son).  The circle reminds us that the Trinity is eternal.

 

 Triangle

Much like the above, this Chrismon reminds us of the Trinity.

Trefoil
This is a conventionalized form of a clover with three lobes. Once again, this Chrismon reminds us of the Trinity.

 Lamb

This reminds us that Jesus is the Lamb of God, “slain before the foundation of the world.”  The lamb is carrying a banner; He is victorious over the cross.

 Dove

The Holy Spirit is often pictured as a dove.  This Chrismon reminds us that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and that the Holy Spirit is our constant companion.

Life of Christ

Other Chrismons depict events in the life of Christ… 

Manger

The manger (a feeding trough) is where Jesus was placed after He was born.

 

Grapes

Grapes symbolize the sacrament of Holy Communion.

 
Crown of Thorns

The crown of thorns (with nails) reminds us of the price Jesus paid to redeem us from sin.

 

Cross and Crown

Just as Jesus is the King of Kings, this symbolizes the rewarding life for Christians after the death of the Body.

 

 

God and People

Other Chrismons remind us of salvation, baptism, and other “means of grace” that bring us closer to Christ and bridge the gap between God and humanity…

Shell with Water Drops

As the manger represents Jesus’ entry into human life, our Baptism marks our entry into eternal life.

Lyre (Harp)

The Lyre represents David and his musical abilities.  It also reminds us that we may constantly rejoice in the Lord.

Anchor

The Anchor Cross was used by early Christians as a symbol of their faith.  The letters Alpha and Omega represent the eternity of Christ.

Beaded Cross

Some Chrismons are made out of beads, others of satin.  This Jerusalem Cross (all sides of equal length) is a symbol of the unity of all Christians.

Fish

The fish has been a popular symbol for our Lord since the early church.  It also reminds us that we are to be “Fishers of Men.”

 

 

2: What’s a White Gift?

On the third Sunday in advent, one of our young couples puts on the Mary and Joseph costumes, places their newborn into a wooden manger, and sits in front of the church before the service while Sunday School kids bring boxes of coins to lay before them on the altar.  The kids are led into the sanctuary by youth dressed as Shepherds.  We call it White Gift Sunday.

OK.  The “Gift” part of that is pretty clear.  It’s kind of the Christmas version of the UNICEF boxes where you save your coins and then donate them to a worthy ministry that helps poor and needy people.

But why WHITE???  The following was recently written to explain this year’s White Gift Sunday:

Historically, credit for the White Gift Sunday is given to the wife of a Methodist minister in 1904 in Ohio.  She knew the legend of the Chinese people who loved their king so much that they each brought him a gift on his birthday. 

The gifts were all wrapped in WHITE PAPER in order to emphasize the love of the people and the intent of the gift, not the size or value of it.

The minister’s wife and daughters asked their congregation to bring a gift wrapped in white for their King, Jesus.  These were often packages of food, the kind of thing that even the poorest in the congregation could bring.  They were Christmas love gifts to the people in need of their community.

White gift is a Pitman tradition that includes the entire church family.  It is an opportunity for children and adults in Sunday School and the congregation to give a Christmas gift to Jesus.  This year (2017) our White Gift celebration was held on Sunday December 17, during the 9:30 Service.  The gifts were donated to the Love Thy Neighbor fund, which targets help to people in the local community.

 

 

3: Why does the cantata always start at 4:15 PM?

Every year, on the third Sunday in Advent, the church’s choirs present an afternoon service of music.  We call this service our “Candlelight Cantata”, and it’s ALWAYS held at 4:15 PM… Not at 4:00PM… Not at 4:30 PM…. But always 4:15 PM.  Why?   Since it’s inception in 1920, our choirs have always started this musical service at precisely 4:15 PM.

It turns out that the 4:15 mystery is one of the hardest to crack.  Most of the saints who were around for that first cantata are now singing in a vastly better choir!  The cantata has traditionally been a service where candles are lit.  The sunlight washes out the warmth and glow of a candle, and so it’s important to start the service after sundown. 

But Sunday is a busy day, and we want to include the children in the cantata without disturbing other Sunday events that a family might celebrate as we near Christmas.  So, starting the service in the evening wasn’t the best option either.

So… why not right after sundown? 

This year, the sun will set at 4:37 PM on December 17 (the date of this year’s cantata).  The sun probably set at a similar time back in December of 1920 (for the first cantata).  The service probably began at 4:15 with announcements, prayers, and an offering.  The choir would have processed into the sanctuary, carrying candles, roughly 15 minutes into the service…  or just as the sun was setting.

Starting the service at 4:15 would have placed the choir procession right at sundown.  The glow of their candles would have symbolized the Light of the World, who would be present during their musical message.

So… 4:15PM?  Maybe not so crazy after all!

 

 

Because We’ve Always Done it That Way???

Traditions can be good things.  Symbols can be helpful reminders.  But we have to understand the symbolism in order to receive the power and richness that it offers.  So the next time you see a Chrismon, White Gift, or 4:15 PM service… let the tradition and symbolism enrich your experience.

 

 

 

 

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