THE COLORS OF CHRISTMAS
RED – THE GIFT OF A SAVIOR

THE COLORS OF CHRISTMAS 
RED,  THE GIFT OF A SAVIOR

    by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
December 17, 201
TEXT:   Isaiah 1:18, Romans 5:6-8, I John 4:9-10

 

            I invite the children to come forward and join me here near the Advent wreath.   You will remember a couple of weeks ago, I told you we were entering a new season in the church year.   Does anyone remember what it is?   Advent!   Advent means “coming” – we are waiting the coming of Jesus.   We literally wait 4 weeks for the coming of Christmas when we remember the birthday of Jesus.   And every Sunday of Advent, we light a different candle.  Do you remember I challenged you to memorize what the names of the candles are – does anyone remember them?   The first one we lit a couple of weeks ago is called “Hope”.   The second one was last week, and it is called peace.   And then the one we lit today is called Joy.   The fourth one is called Love.   And what is the white one called?   The Christ candle or the Jesus candle.   And we light that on Christmas Eve.

 

            Now why is the candle we lit today pink instead of purple.   Well, there is a lot of history that goes behind that.   But I will simply say that through the centuries – Christians have lit the pink candle as a day of joy, remembering how the shepherds heard the message from the angels about Jesus and they said, “Behold we bring you a message of great joy that unto you a child is born!” And we can rejoice that there are more candles lit on our advent wreath than are unlit.   Christmas is getting here soon!   It is a day to celebrate!

 

            Now, if you will sit down for a moment.   I want to tell you a great story.   Back in the 1600’s, a choir director, kind of like Mr. Steve, in Germany, was concerned about kids squirming in their seats during worship.   Do you ever do that?   Well, he used to give white candy to help keep the kids quiet.   And he made a made a bend in it to make it look like a shepherd’s staff – and that would help people remember the Jesus was the Good Shepherd.     Or if you were to turn it upside down, it looks like the letter “J”  - which stands for “Jesus”!

 

            But then a candymaker, in the state of Indiana, decided that white staff was just a little too plain.   So, in the 1920’s, he decided to add some color and help tell the story of Jesus as well.   If you look closely, you will see 3 small red stripes.   This is to help us remember the stripes on Jesus’ back when Jesus was beaten.   It says in Scripture, that with His stripes we are healed.   He was endured all that pain and suffering for us!

 

And see the big red stripe?   That big red stripe is to help us remember the blood that was shed by Christ on the cross so that we could have the promise of eternal life.1

 

            So, a lot of people look at this candy – and all they see is a candy cane.   But we can look at it and know it is all about Jesus.   And this is definitely good news that we want to share with others.   So, I am going to give you each a candy cane or two for yourselves – and then I want you to make sure everybody here today gets a candy cane.   So, will you help me pass them out as you go back to your seats?   Make sure EVERYONE gets one!

            Today we continue on with our sermon series on the Colors of Christmas.  And it really is amazing all the stories and traditions of Christmas that we sometimes fail to see when we are looking at our Christmas decorations.  There seems to be a deeper meaning behind a lot of our colors and decorations –all pointing to the good news we know about Jesus.   And certainly, that is true as we think about the candy cane.

 

            So, we turn to the color red today.   And I noticed many of you wore that color today.   Certainly red is the color of Christmas!  Can you imagine a Christmas celebration without the color red somewhere in it?

 

            No one knows for sure why red became such a popular color for Christmas, but there are some scholars who date it back to the 1300’s when churches would present plays to help people learn the stories of the Bible.   A lot of the people then could not read – so they learned the stories of the Bible through artwork, stained glass and through drama.   In particular, a very popular play they performed on Christmas Eve was called “The Paradise Play”.   It told the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.   In the play, they heard the story of how God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat fruit from the Tree of Good and Evil.   They did so anyway, and they were banished from paradise.  The play ended with the promise of the coming of the Savior through the Virgin Mary – who would return us to paradise through His death and resurrection.2

 

            One of the props on the stage of these Paradise plays was the tree of good and evil.   Apple trees were barren in winter – so churches would instead bring in pine trees and attach red apples to the tree to represent the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve ate.

 

            Thus, began the tradition of evergreens being used in churches – and later in homes for Christmas – and the color red used as ornaments.

 

            Interestingly, when we think of the color red, we don’t always see it in a positive sense.   Red can stand for danger – or for sin!   Think about the expressions that use the word red in them.   We say someone was “caught red-handed” if they were caught committing a crime.   Or if they are really angry, we might describe them as “red with rage”.   And we call those parts of a city where prostitutes are – a red-light district!    If someone has fouled in a serious way and needs to be punished and out of the soccer game, what does the referee do?   Gives them a red card!   And how is Satan often portrayed in art?   A red creature with a pitchfork, right?  

 

            But red isn’t always something bad in Scripture.   We know that red usually has to do with blood in the Bible.   For example, during the time of the Exodus, when the death of the first-born child came as a plague to Egypt, the families of the Hebrews would be spared if they had the sign of the blood on their door frames.   And red or a deeper shade of red called scarlet was used in the clothing of the priests.    The priests would wear these garments daily when they went to the Temple to offer sacrifices - spilling blood of a lamb or a bull or a goat – to atone for the sins of the people.     Hebrews 9:22 tells us that the law of Moses said, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” So again and again, blood was shed, in the effort to have their sins covered and hope to gain the forgiveness of God.3

            But all those animal sacrifices could never remove the sin.   That is why it was repeated daily.   But the prophet Isaiah prophesied that one day, there would be a time when God would actually remove the sins from them.   Isaiah 1:18 says:  “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord.  ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them white as snow.   Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.’”   Crimson and scarlet are deep red permanent dyes – they are used on cloth or wool making it colorfast – meaning it sticks to cloth and never fade or wash away.   It was virtually impossible to remove its stain from the cloth.

 

            That is what the stain of sin can does for you and for me.   We have had those times when we have become red with rage – or we have ignored those red danger signs and crossed the line.   We’ve been red-faced with embarrassment of over our actions or we have been caught red-handed in living in a way contrary to the will of God.   We’ve been red-carded and we are stained for the wrong things we’ve done or said or thought.   And there is nothing that can get rid of that stain – unless we claim the blood of Jesus.

 

            Here’s what is so amazing.   If you were trying to get blood out of a garment that had been soiled, would you use blood to do it?   No – you’d use bleach or some other cleaner.   But the amazing thing is that when we call on the name of Jesus as our Savior – His blood washes us white as snow!!   God forgives us and removes that stain of sin from us.

 

            You see – that really is the good news of Christmas.    It is the reason Jesus came.   Romans 5:6-8 says:  When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

 

            The Red of Christmas shows us this incredible gift of love from God – that He would reach out to us unworthy, helpless sinners – and send Jesus to die for us.   He didn’t just send Jesus to be a good teacher – to live an exemplary life – and preach a lot of good stories.  No, God knew we were helpless and hopeless – unable to save ourselves.   Out of the depth of His love for us, He sent Jesus – at just the right time – to die for us.

 

            I think I John 4:9-10 is really a Scripture that sums up the whole of the Christmas story.   It says:   God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

 

            The good news of Christmas is the incredible gift of God’s love in sending Jesus to die that we might live!  He has come to set us free and restore our relationship with God that was broken due to sin.   

 

            Paul Harvey used to tell the story of Boston preacher, Dr. S.D. Gordon, who one day went into worship and placed a beat up, bent, rusted old bird cage beside his pulpit.   Dr. Gordon then told a story about walking around town, one afternoon and running into a little boy, about 10 years old, walking towards him, swinging this old rusted birdcage.   Inside were 3 frightened and cold birds from the field.   Dr. Gordon stopped him and asked, “Where did you get those birds?” Oh, he said that he trapped them.  “Well, what are you going to do with them?”  The boy said he was going to play with them and have fun with them. “I am going to tease them and pull out their feathers and poke them with sticks.”  Dr. Gordon looked at him and said, “Well, sooner or later you’ll get tired of them.   Then what are you going to do with them?”   The boy said, “Well, I have a cat at home, and I’ll just feed them to the cat.”

 

            Dr. Gordon said, “You know, I am particularly fond of the birds.   How much do you want for the birds?” 

 

“Oh mister, you don’t want these old birds.   They don’t even sing.  They are ugly and good for nothing.”   Dr. Gordon persisted, “How much do you want for them?”  “$10” the boy shouted.   Dr. Gordon reached into his pocket and handed the boy the $10 bill and with that, the boy uttered a quick “thanks!” and was gone in a flash.   Dr. Gordon then took the cage and walked out to a large clearing and opened the rusty door of the cage and tapping on the bars – the birds flew out – singing and chirping – they were free at last – redeemed from a certain death, had he not intervened to rescue them.

 

The old Pastor paused a moment as if to gather his thoughts, and as he looked out over the congregation, he saw that they were anxious for him to finish the story.  He began to speak, almost like Paul Harvey, saying, “Now here is the rest of the story.”

 

 “One day, Satan came across Jesus. Satan was laughing, gloating, just jubilant over his accomplishment.” He had just come from the Garden of Eden.   “Yes, sir, I just caught the world full of people down there.” “Set me trap, used bait I knew they couldn’t resist.”   You know they put themselves in that cage…they fell for the bait.  “I got’em all!!” Satan couldn’t contain himself from gloating and boasting, he was swelling with pride.

 

“What are you going to do with them?” Jesus asked

 

“Oh”, declared Satan, “I’m fun playing games with them.   I am going to prod and provoke them – getting them to hate and destroy each other.   I’ll stir up racial hatred, defiance of law and order.   I will make people bored, lonely, discouraged, confused and restless.   It’s easy.   People will listen to what I offer them and what’s more, they will start to think that evil is good and good is evil.” Satan was bursting with pride.

 

“What are you going to do with them when you finish having your fun?” Jesus asked.

 

“Oh – those that don’t destroy themselves.  I will destroy.   None will escape me – they will be damned for all eternity.”

 

            “You know my Father and I are very fond of humankind.”  - “I know” -   “I want to have a relationship with them and I want them to have full access to me.   So, I’m going to pay for their freedom.”  Satan laughed. “You can’t be serious! You know that they will turn their backs on you!  They’ll just spit on you.  They’ll hate you.  They’ll hit you and beat you.   They’ll hammer nails into you!   They are no good!”

 “How much?”, Jesus asked, again.

 

Satan looked at Jesus and said. “It will cost you all of your tears and all of your blood.   That’s the price.”   Jesus said, “I am willing to give what it takes.”

 

Satan snarled: “But it will cost you your life.”

 

Jesus looked at Satan and said, DONE! Then he paid the price.

 

            So, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, paid for your release, your freedom from Satan’s trap, with His own life, on the cross at Calvary.   The door is now open – we can be set free - redeemed.   We can join those birds in singing:  “Redeemed!   Redeemed by the blood of the lamb!  I’ve been set free.”

 

            That’s the message of Christmas.

 

            It is the message on the candy cane:  We’ve been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb!

 

            It’s the message is every carol sung:   God so loved the world that He gave His Son – so we can be redeemed!

 

            It’s the message that the Shepherds hear – angels bringing good news of great joy!   For to you is born this day a Savior!   We have been redeemed!

 

            Thanks be to God for the gift of a Savior – Christ the Lord!

 

PRAYER

 

INVITATION

 

 

 

RESOURCES:

 

1There are a variety of legends about the candy cane.   The first one I read was from an email a church member sent me.   There was no reference to who wrote it.   I did find one similar located here:  “Legend of the Candy Cane”  http://www.candyusa/cancestor.html


2Elaine Jordan, “Adam, Eve and the Paradise Tree.”
http://www.traditioninaction.org/religious/f031_Tree.htm

 

3What Does The Color Red Mean or Symbolize in The Bible
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2014/11/03/what-does-the-color-red-mean-or-symbolize-in-the-

 

Red: Symbolic And Cultural Associations

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/objectretrieval/node/277

 

 

 

4This story is told in a variety of ways, including a “SkitGuys” skit on Youtube.   I have combined several of them together to come up with the story as I told it here.   Here is one reference to the story:  http://www.faithwriters.com/article-details.php?id=154024 and this one, that attributes this story to Paul Harvey:

http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/jesus_birdcage-2/