As soon as we arrived in Sandwich, New Hampshire, for the holidays we started decorating the house … even before we unpacked our bags. The borrowed 3-foot Christmas tree, which we brought with us from Pennsylvania, went up in minutes.
I located the window candles in a box in the garage and placed them on the windowsills. My wife, Jude, set up the olive wood nativity set, which we had purchased years ago from a carpenter’s shop on Milk Grotto Street in Bethlehem.
While we were in the midst of festive festooning, some friends came by with a gift – a beautiful evergreen wreath to place on the front door. I have been meditating on this wreath ever since.
It is not your typical circle of green; it is even better. Don’t get me wrong; I love traditional wreaths. The symbolism of the endless evergreen circle is a powerful statement of everlasting life. It was a symbol connected with the winter solstice in northern Europe long before the gospel came to that cold climate. It adapted well into Christianity.
But the wreath that now hangs on our door is in the shape of a cross. I must have seen such cruciform wreaths before, but I can’t recall when. I know I have never owned one.
A Christmas cross wreath is a powerful symbol. It combines the life symbolism of the evergreen with the death symbolism of the cross. Christ was born to die. We all are. As soon as we are born, we begin dying. That is the nature of life. All that is born must die.
There is a painting by an anonymous artist that depicts Jesus as a toddler crawling on the floor of his father’s carpenter’s shop. The child is playing with one of three large spikes as his body casts an image of a cross on the workshop floor. It is entitled “Destiny.”
Death was the destiny of the Bethlehem babe. So is life – eternal life. Death is our destiny … and so is life. The evergreen cross brings these disparate realities together in one image.
In Jesus the unborn is born. The immortal becomes mortal; the ageless ages. The all-knowing one “grows in wisdom and stature.” The impassive suffers, and the deathless dies. And death is swallowed up by life.
That is the message that hangs on my front door for all to see this holiday.