Faith Lutheran Church celebrates with symbols Ornaments provide focus for service SOUTHEAST -- Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

December 21, 1992|By Maureen Rice | Maureen Rice,Contributing Writer

"Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, how beautiful thy branches. . . ."

In Christian faiths, it's been said that those branches direct eyes upward, toward heaven. The Christmas tree itself, some say, is supposed to remind Christians of their sins, because sin entered into the world in the garden of Eden through a tree. The tree also symbolizes salvation, for God promised mankind a savior who would die on a tree to set all people free from sin.

That's quite a lot of symbolism for one tree. But there are other Christmas symbols.

A service such as "The Hanging of the Greens," which took place last week at Faith Lutheran Church in Eldersburg, provided a way to learn about Christian symbols that are so prevalent and taken for granted at Christmas.

"The service . . . began in a church in Danville, Va., several years ago," said Pastor James Stoltenberg of Faith Lutheran. "It has since spread around the country."

During the service, chrismons, which are Christian symbols, are used to decorate the church and tree to the accompaniment of an explanation of their meaning.

"The chrismons are made of wire, beads, wood, sometimes even Styrofoam," said Pastor Stoltenberg. "They are made and hung in the church by members."

While many people have never heard of this type of service, few are likely to be as shocked as one member of Pastor Stoltenberg's former congregation in North Carolina. The congregant happened to be named Green.

"He came in, saw the notice of the 'Hanging of the Greens' and got the wrong idea," said Pastor Stoltenberg, "but of course, he quickly figured out what was going on, and was immensely relieved, and enjoyed the service."

Carefully holding the handmade chrismons, church members rose quietly from their seats to cross the concrete floor to address the congregation.

The angel in the service symbolizes the angels who were called upon by God to bring good news and glad tidings to those chosen by God, the church members read. It also symbolizes the angel who brought news to Mary that she would bear God's son.

The star symbolizes Jesus as "the bright morning star" and the star that lead the wise men to his manger. The lamb reminds believers that Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, the sacrifice who takes away the sins of the world.

The dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit.

The horn symbolizes praise to Jesus Christ and a remembrance of his victory at Jericho, where the horns sent the walls tumbling down. The manger cradled the Christ child, born to Mary in Bethlehem.

The circles of wreaths symbolize God's never-ending love. The evergreens symbolize everlasting life.

Red poinsettias remind believers of Christ's painful sacrifice. White ones symbolize being cleansed by Jesus' sacrifices.

The crown, placed last among the symbols, proclaims Jesus to be the "King of Kings and Lord of Lords."

The service, punctuated by carols, solos and a rendition of "The Trumpet Shall Sound" by Brandon Schreiner, a member of the Liberty High School band, included a rendition of "Away in a Manger" by the children present.

"All children," said Pastor Stoltenberg indicating with his hand "this high and under, please come up now."

All the children in the church obliged, singing quietly with wide eyes. Lights were placed in the windows because the lights of the Christmas season symbolize Jesus, "the Light of the World."

"I made the crown," said Mary Shimoda, a church member. "One afternoon I started forming it with wire and beads. I used pipe stems and gold beads and some 18-gauge wire. It's big, big enough to sit on my head, but you can hardly see it on the tree because the tree is so tall."

In the happy celebration over "Dump Cake" and other desserts after the service, members sang "Happy Birthday" twice -- once to Jesus, and once, loudly, to carry over the telephone wires to congregation President Park Espenschade, who was bedridden with the flu.

"We'll see you Sunday!" they called to each other, laughing about what the weather might supply for their live Nativity.

Whatever the weather, they assured each other, they could handle it.

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