Worship for Sunday, December 12, 2021

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.

The Word of the Lord.

Isaiah 12:2-6

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might, and has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on God’s name;
make known the deeds of the Lord among the nations; proclaim that this name is exalted.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. 

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 3:7-18

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”’

As the people wrre filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This morning we are going to be learning a bit more about some of the decorations we use to decorate our sanctuary during Advent and Christmas each year.

We see Christmas trees almost everywhere we go this time of year.

We can’t seem to agree on much these days – but apparently – we can agree on the awesomeness of Christmas trees. 94 million American households will put up and decorate at least one Christmas tree this year. That’s about 79 percent of us!

We find Christmas trees outside and inside. We see trees covered in twinkle lights – living trees – artificial trees and puffy – inflatable trees dancing in yards.

We don’t know the exact origins of the Christmas tree but there is a cool legend of the very first Christmas tree.

It is said that in the 7th century a zealous – young – English missionary was the very first person to use the evergreen tree as a symbol for the triune God. Winfrid – who later become known as Saint Boniface – used the evergreen tree as an object lesson. He taught that each point on the triangular-shaped tree represented a different Person of the Holy Trinity – God the Father – the Son the and the Holy Spirit.

Another legend says that one day Winfrid came upon a group of men offering a sacrifice to an oak tree as an act of pagan worship. Winfrid was so infuriated by this idolatry that he felled the oak tree with one mighty blow of his ax.

According to this legend – a fir tree grew from the stump of the oak.   Struck by this miraculous event – Winfred proclaimed that the tiny new fir tree represented Jesus’ victory over death on the cross and gift of eternal life given to us by our Savior

Have you ever noticed the way your Christmas tree points toward heaven?   Just as Jesus did with his words and his actions – drawing our attention to God who loves us all.

At Saint Stephen we have been decorating our Christmas trees with special Christmas ornaments called Chrismons for years.

Chrismons are special Christmas decorations – filled with symbolism and meaning. The word “chrismon” comes from combining the two words – monogram and Christ. So – the word chrismon literally means – Christ’s monogram.

Each chrismon tells a unique story – truth or lesson about our Christian faith in the symbols it includes.

The crown tops our Christmas tree each year. The crown reminds us Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus is the long awaited – much anticipated descendant of King David who saves us from our sins and conquers death for us through his innocent death on the cross.

Each summer roses bloom in front of Saint Stephen and each December we hang a rose in a golden circle on our Christmas tree.

The circle reminds us that our God is eternal – with no beginning and no end. The circle also reminds us of the gift and blessing of eternal life we receive from Jesus’ innocent death on the cross and his resurrection 3 days later.

The rose reminds us of God’s promise to the exiled people of Israel (and to us) in Isaiah 35:1 – “The desert shall rejoice and blossom as a rose.”

The rose is also a symbol that is often used to represent Jesus’ mother Mary.

The IHS or in Greek – The Iota Eta Sigma on a Latin Cross

The iota – eta – and sigma (IHS) are the first 3 letters in the Greek spelling of the name Jesus. When these 3 letters are placed on a cross – they remind us Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

The Ichthus or The Stylized Fish

Ichthus comes from a Greek word meaning fish. An ichthus is a stylized fish.

Early Christians used the ichthus as an easily made/quickly drawn and easily recognized secret sign.   During times of persecution and oppression Christians could find one another by using this simple password.   To outsiders – the ichthus just looked like a decoration – but to Christians it was an affirmation and declaration of their Christian faith.

It is also what is called an acrostic in which the Greek letters are the initials of the word’s meaning Jesus Christ Son of God – Savior. (This makes way more sense if you read ancient Greek. So – feel free to chat with Jason about it in Sunday school next week!)

The Phoenix

The Phoenix isn’t just for Harry Potter and his friends!   Christians have been using the phoenix for centuries to tell important truths about our faith.

The phoenix is said to have been an eagle-like bird from the Middle East with beautiful red and gold feathers. Only one phoenix ever exists at the same time.

Every 500 years – as the phoenix feels its life drawing to a close – it builds a nest of frankincense – myrrh – and other sweet-smelling woods.   Then as it dies – the sun sets the phoenix’s nest on fire and the phoenix is consumed in the flames. 3 days later – the phoenix rises again from the ashes – restored to health and youth – ready to live out another 500 years.

As a Christian symbol the phoenix represents the resurrection to eternal life.

The Serpent on the Tau Cross

God the Father saved the People of Israel from a plague of snakes during the Exodus (which they brought on themselves as a punishment for their sins) when he gave Moses a staff with a bronze serpent on it. Whenever one of the Chosen People was bitten by a serpent all they had to do to be healed was to look at the bronze serpent.

The serpent reminds us of the healing we too can find in God when we turn to him.

This cross is called the “tau” cross because it resembles the Greek letter tau. The cross reminds us of the glorious gift of salvation we have been promised by our Lord.

The Triquetra and the Circle

(Triquetra was a new word for me.) A triquetra is a triangular shape made up of 3 interlaced arcs.   Each of the arcs is equal in size.   This reminds of us of the Holy Trinity – God the Father – Son – and Holy Spirit.

The endless circle the triquetra rests in reminds us of eternal life.

The Passion Cross

The Passion Cross is also known as the Cross of Suffering. The pointed ends of this cross remind us of the points of the nails that were used to crucify Jesus. The points also remind us of the sharp points of the spear that pierced Jesus’ side and the crown of thorns that was placed on Jesus’ head. (The Gospel of John 19).

As you can see – in just one simple looking Christmas decoration – there can be so much meaning! I hope you are able to see our Christmas decorations at Saint Stephen with new eyes now that you know just a bit more about what they mean and the story they are telling us.

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