Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Candy Cane

The candy cane has long been a Christmas tradition and was said to have been the creation of a fine Christian candy maker in Indiana. Its sweet peppermint taste has been enjoyed by young and old for years.

The candy maker started with pure white candy to symbolize Jesus' innocence (Heb 4:15) and the holiness of the sinless son of God (1 John 1:7).

The white also shows the virgin birth of Jesus: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son..." (Matt 1:23).

He made the candy hard because the church is built on solid rock and God's promises are a firm foundation (Matt 16:18, 1Thess 5:24), and that Jesus is like a "rock", strong and dependable. (Psalm 31:3).

Next the candy maker made the candy in the shape of a 'J' for the name of Jesus who came to earth as our Savior (Matt 1:21, Acts 4:12). When the candy was turned upside down, it is the shape of the Good Shepherd's staff (John 10:11). "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep".

Finally he stained the candy with red stripes. The color red symbolizes God's love that sent Jesus to give His life for us on the cross (John 3:16).

The large red stripe is for the blood Jesus shed for our sins on the cross (Eph 1:7). "In him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace."  The smaller stripes remind of Jesus' suffering and our redemptive healing (John 19: 1-30).

So this Christmas when you and your family hang candy canes on your tree remember that they're not just candy canes. Instead they are a symbol of the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.

-- Author Unknown

Friday, December 17, 2010

Where Did The Christmas Tree Come From?

christmas tree

The story of the Christmas tree is part of the story of the life of St. Boniface, whose name was originally Winfrid. St. Boniface was born about the year 680 in Devonshire, England. At the age of five, he wanted to become a monk, and entered the monastery school near Exeter two years later. When he was fourteen, he entered the abbey of Nursling, in the Diocese of Winchester. Very studious himself, St. Boniface was the pupil of the learned abbot, Winbert. Later Boniface became the director of the school.

At this time, much of northern and central Europe still had not been evangelized. St. Boniface decided he wanted to be a missionary to these people. After one brief attempt, he sought the official approval of Pope St. Gregory II. The Pope charged him with preaching the gospel to the German people. (Also at this time, St. Boniface changed his name from Winfrid to Boniface.) St. Boniface travelled to Germany through the Alps into Bavaria and then into Hesse and Thuringia. In 722, the Pope consecrated St. Boniface as a bishop with jurisdiction over all of Germany. He knew that his greatest challenge was to eradicate pagan superstitions which hindered the acceptance of the gospel and the conversion of the people. Known as "the Apostle to Germany," he would continue to preach the gospel until he was martyred in 754. At this point we can begin our story about the Christmas tree.

With his band of faithful followers, St. Boniface was traveling through the woods along an old Roman road one Christmas Eve. Snow covered the ground, muffling their footsteps. Their breath could be seen in the crisp, cold air. Although several suggested that they camp for the night, St. Boniface encouraged them to push forward, saying, "Courage, brothers, and forward yet a little. God's moon will light us presently, and the path is plain. Well know I that you are weary; and my own heart wearies also for the home in England, where those I love so dearly are keeping feast this Christmas Eve. Oh, that I might escape from this wild, storm-tossed sea of Germany into the peaceful haven of my fatherland! But we have work to do before we feast tonight. For this is the Yule-tide, and the heathen people of the forest have gathered at the Oak of Geismar to worship their god, Thor; and strange things will be seen there, and deeds which make the soul black. But we are sent to lighten their darkness; and we will teach our kinsmen to keep a Christmas with us such as the woodland has never known. Forward, then, in God's name!"

They pushed ahead, reinvigorated by St. Boniface's plea. After a while, the road opened to a clearing. They could see houses, but dark and seemingly vacant. No human was in sight. Only the noise of hounds and horses broke the quiet. Continuing on, they came to a glade in the forest, and there appeared the sacred Thunder Oak of Geismar. "Here," St. Boniface proclaimed as he held is bishop's crozier high with its cross on top, "here is the Thunder-oak; and here the cross of Christ shall break the hammer of the false god Thor."

In front of the tree was a huge bonfire. Sparks danced in the air. The townspeople surrounded the fire facing the sacred oak. St. Boniface interrupted their meeting, "Hail, sons of the forest! A stranger claims the warmth of your fire in the winter night." As St. Boniface and his companions approached the fire, the eyes of the townspeople were on these strangers. St. Boniface continued, "Your kinsman am I, of the German brotherhood and from Wessex, beyond the sea, have I come to bring you a greeting from that land, and a message from the All-Father, whose servant I am."

Hunrad, the old priest of Thor, welcomed St. Boniface and his companions. Hunrad then said to them, "Stand still, common man, and behold what the gods have called us hither to do! This night is the death-night of the sun-god, Baldur the Beautiful, beloved of gods and men. This night is the hour of darkness and the power of winter, of sacrifice and mighty fear. This night the great Thor, the god of thunder and war, to whom this oak is sacred, is grieved for the death of Baldur, and angry with this people because they have forsaken his worship.

Long is it since an offering has been laid upon his altar, long since the roots of his holy tree have been fed with blood. Therefore its leaves have withered before the time, and its boughs are heavy with death. Therefore, the Slavs and the Saxons have beaten us in battle. Therefore, the harvests have failed, and the wolf-hordes have ravaged the folds, and the strength has departed from the bow, and the wood of the spear has broken, and the wild boar has slain the huntsman. Therefore, the plague has fallen on your dwellings, and the dead are more than the living in all your villages. Answer me, you people, are not these things true?" The people sounded their approval and then began a chant of praise to Thor.

When the last sounds faded, Hunrad pronounced, "None of these things will please the god. More costly is the offering that shall cleanse your sin, more precious the crimson dew that shall send new life into this holy tree of blood. Thor claims your dearest and your noblest gift."

With that, Hunrad approached the children, group together around the fire. He selected the fairest boy, Asulf, the son of Duke Alvold and his wife, Thekla, and declared that he would be sacrificed to travel to Valhalla and bear the people's message to Thor. Asulf's parents were deeply shaken. Yet, no one spoke.

Hunrad led the boy to a large stone altar between the oak and the fire. He blindfolded the child, and had him kneel down placing his head on the stone altar. The people moved closer, and St. Boniface positioned himself near the priest. Hunrad then lifted his sacred black-stone hammer of the god Thor high into the air, ready to have it crush little Asulf's skull. As the hammer fell, St. Boniface thrust his crozier against the hammer, and it fell from Hunrad's hand, splitting in two against the stone altar. Sounds of awe and joy filled the air. Thekla ran to her child spared of this bloody sacrifice and embraced him tightly.

St. Boniface, his face radiant then spoke to the people, "Hearken, sons of the forest! No blood shall flow this night save that which pity has drawn from a mother's breast. For this is the birth-night of the white Christ, the son of the All-Father, the Savior of mankind. Fairer is He than Baldur the Beautiful, greater than Odin the Wise, kinder than Freya the Good. Since He has come sacrifice is ended. The dark, Thor, on whom you have vainly called, is dead. Deep in the shades of Niffelheim he is lost forever. And now on this Christ-night you shall begin to live. This blood-tree shall darken your land no more. In the name of the Lord, I will destroy it." St. Boniface then took his broad ax and began striking the tree. A mighty wind suddenly arose and the tree fell, wrenching its roots from the earth, and it split into four pieces.

Behind the mighty oak stood a young fir tree, pointing like a cathedral spire toward heaven. St. Boniface again spoke to the people, "This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace, for your houses are built of the fir. It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness."

So they took the fir tree and carried it to the village. Duke Alvold set the tree in the middle of his great hall. They placed candles on its branches, and it seemed filled with stars. Then St. Boniface, with Hunrad sitting at his feet, told the story of Bethlehem, the Baby Jesus in the manger, the shepherds, and the angels. All listened intently. Little Asulf, sitting on his mother's lap, said, "Mother, listen now, for I hear those angels singing again behind the tree." Some say it is true; some say it was St. Boniface's companions singing, "All glory be to God on high, and to the earth be peace; goodwill, henceforth, from heaven to men begin and never cease."

As we gather around our Christmas trees this year, may we give thanks for the gift of our faith, hold the story of our Savior's birth in our hearts and listen for the song of the angels.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What Happens In Heaven When We Pray

This is  one of the nicest e-mails I have seen and is so  true:  

I  dreamt that I went to Heaven and an angel was showing me  around.  We walked side-by-side inside a large workroom  filled with angels.  My angel guide stopped in front of the  first section and said, "This is the Receiving Section.   Here, all petitions to God said in prayer are received."

I  looked around in this area, and it was terribly busy with so  many angels sorting out petitions written on voluminous paper  sheets and scraps from people all over the world.

Then we  moved on down a long corridor until we reached the second  section.

The angel then said to me, "This is the  Packaging and Delivery Section.  Here, the graces and  blessings the people asked for are processed and delivered to  the living persons who asked for them." 

I noticed again  how busy it was there.  There were many angels working hard  at that station, since so many blessings had been requested and  were being packaged for delivery to Earth.

Finally  at the farthest end of the long corridor we stopped at the door  of a very small station.  To my great surprise, only one  angel was seated there, idly doing nothing.  "This is the  Acknowledgment Section," my angel friend quietly admitted to  me.  He seemed embarrassed. 

"How is it that there is no work going on here?" I asked.

"So sad," the angel sighed.  "After people receive the blessings that they asked for, very few send back  acknowledgments."

"How does one acknowledge God's blessings?" I asked.

"Simple,"  the angel answered.  Just say, "Thank you, Lord."

"What  blessings should they acknowledge?"  I asked.

"If you  have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof  overhead, and a place to sleep you are richer than 75% of this  world.  If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and  spare change in a dish, you are among the top 8% of the world's  wealthy."

"And if  you get this on your own computer, you are part of the 1% in the  world who has that opportunity."

"If you  woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more  blessed than the many who will not even survive this  day."

"If you  have never experienced the fear in battle, the loneliness of  imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation,  you are ahead of 700 million people in the  world."

"If you  can attend a church without the fear of harassment, arrest,  torture, or death, you are envied by and more blessed than three  billion people in the world."  

"If  your parents are still alive and still married, you are very rare."

"If you  can hold your head up and smile, you are not the norm.  You're unique to all those in doubt and  despair."

"Okay.   What now?  How can I start?'

If you  can read this message, you just received a double blessing in  that someone was thinking of you as very special, and you are  more blessed than over two billion people in the world who  cannot read at all.

Have a  good day.  Count your blessings.  And if you  care to, pass this along to remind everyone else how blessed we  all are.