Last month I wrote three short meditations for my parents’ church’s Hanging of the Greens service. I’ve already shared an Advent-themed piece on candle light. This Christmas Eve I’ll publish the two focused on symbols of Jesus’ birth itself. First up, the flowers that are omnipresent this time of year.
One of the complicated joys of Christianity is that few symbols mean only one thing. That’s certainly true of the flower that we’ve come to associate with Christmas: the poinsettia.
First, the poinsettia reminds us of the beauty of Creation — and the intentions of the Creator. The Protestant reformer John Calvin believed that God intended “not only to provide for our needs, but also for our pleasure and our delight.” So even plants and trees he made to be “practical, but also beautiful to us with elegant shapes and pleasant smells.”
Second, the poinsettia reminds us that the church does not belong to any one country or culture. Poinsettias are native to Mexico, a land whose people first learned of the Prince of Peace at the point of Spanish swords. Yet Christianity took root in that soil, a reminder that Christ the King came to bring “down the powerful from their thrones” and lift “up the lowly” (Luke 1:52).
Indeed, our Lord “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” (Phi 2:8). So third, the poinsettia reminds us that Christmas is only the beginning of Jesus’ story. “[A] sword will pierce your own soul too,” Simeon told Mary as he cradled her infant (Luke 2:35), and the blood red-ness of these flowers makes it impossible to forget that the same child died for our sins.
But fourth, those blossoms form the shape of a star, which reminds us that, even in darkness, there is still hope. For the same God who guided the wise men to Bethlehem — the same God who created this world and all who live in it, the same God whom Mary obeyed, the same God who sent us His only begotten son — that same God guides us still.