My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Everybody knows the colors of Christmas. We all think of red and green, and you can see the blue of the altar behind me. Some would add gold it is shiny and it stands for the gold of the wise men, although that would better fit Epiphany. I think many Minnesotans would include white, for reasons which I believe are obvious. But when I think of Christmas, I think of red, and green, and purple, the traditional color for the altar in Advent. Those are the colors of Christmas.
And those colors form the theme of the mid week advent services this year. Every so often, we find a book or an article on the meaning of colors. It seems that every one of them claims to be the truth, and yet no two seem to agree with one another. I make no claim for truth for my interpretation of the colors. They are simply the excuse for telling the old, old story of the love of God demonstrated so clearly in the Christmas story and in the whole gospel. Tonight we look at the red.
Red is the color of the holly berry. It has become part of the lore of Christmas because holly stays so green in winter, and the red berries are a nice contrast. I think that is how red got to be such a Christmas color.
Theologically, red is the liturgical color of the Holy Spirit, and of fire and purification, and of blood. When I think of red, though, I first think of anger. We commonly speak of one 'seeing red.' The Bible speaks of anger or wrath burning. So when I see red, I think of anger.
I think of the anger or the wrath of God. It burns and it purifies. The day of wrath is called the "great and terrible day of the Lord." Scripture speaks of God in His wrath and anger blowing kingdoms away and whispering and melting the mountains. Wrath destroys utterly. Nothing is to be avoided like the wrath of God.
And what causes the anger and wrath of God? Sin. When men sin God responds with wrath. It is the response of the holy nature of God to the unholiness of sin. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." (ROM 1:18)
When we see the red in Christmas, it should make us remember our sins, for which reason the wrath of God comes upon men. We have all sinned. We love our comfort and our pleasures too much. We spend time on things we know are not of eternal significance, but we ignore those that are. We gossip and judge one another. We give ourselves the right and privilege of missing what we don't want, of making choices that are illogical and inconsistent with our faith. We make ourselves experts in religion without sufficient study of the source book or knowledge of the one about whom all religion really ought to be. In short, we make ourselves out to be God, and worship ourselves, and give ourselves all sorts of good offerings - even as Christians, and give God the left overs of our time and energy and attention and affection and skills and abilities and treasures.
Think of the last time or two that you missed worship. Think of the last few times you excused yourself from participating in Bible Class. Think of the excuses you offer in your head as I say those words and think about the real reasons. You dare not even be honest with yourself. You made choices to serve yourself and not God. You chose pleasure, or you chose expedience, or you chose some other self serving thing. You know you need God. You know that you need to know Him better. You know you owe Him worship and study and praise and prayer. But something else came first. It wasn't even your own good, for that is served best by serving and studying God. It is sin.
And on account of sin the wrath of God comes. Paul says it plainly in Ephesians 5:6: "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience." And again, in Colossians 3:6: "For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come." The red of Christmas should put you in mind of your sins. Your sins made Christmas necessary.
But the red of Christmas also reminds me of the cure for sin - the blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross for sin. It is the right color. I often ponder whether the color of wrath was also intended to remind us of the answer to the wrath of God.
Sin is the cause of the wrath and anger of God. In His holiness, He cannot overlook sin. Sin is utterly offensive to Him. Therefore He declared of old that "The person who sins will die." Ezekiel 18:20. The wages of sin is death.
But God is not only holy, He is also perfectly just. He plays by the rules, even if they are His rules. He doesn't make exceptions. He demands the death eternal death, for the soul is eternal - for sin. That is the Law. That is the justice. Do this and live, He said. Turn away into sin and you shall die. "On the day that you eat of it you shall surely die", He said to Adam and Eve.
But God is also merciful and loving. They are just as much a part of His nature as the holiness and the justice. Men often make the mistake of pitting the attributes of God against one another as though God cannot be just because He is loving. But, because these are His attributes, qualities which describe His nature, He must be both just and loving at the same time.
And it was His mercy and love which found the impossible - the way to exact the payment for sin, and reap death for sin, and still preserve and save those whom He had created and whom He loves. The plan was for someone with perfect righteousness to take our place, to trade the life they had earned for the death we have so richly deserved.
But one man is only worth one man. So God sent His Son. He was born human, born of a virgin on the day we look forward to celebrating in a couple weeks. As God, Jesus had the power to keep the Law where man did not. As God, Jesus was worth more than all of us put together. As man, He was under the same obligation to keep the law and the same promise of eternal life if He did. As man, Jesus could take our place, suffer our punishment, die our death, and trade places with us.
And He did. And the payment was His blood, bright red. He died for all. He paid for us. He gives us eternal life. He forgives us sins with justice, because He paid the penalty for them. He is the one who had borne the grief, the sorrow, who was wounded for our transgressions, who was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement which brings us peace fell on Him and His suffering brings us healing both in this world and eternally! Red, the color of His blood, is therefore the color of the cure for sin. And Jesus has declared that everyone who trust in what He has accomplished and what He has promised will share in the cure. Jesus Himself said, in John 3:36: "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
One color shows us the anger and the blood. Our sins and the cure, our salvation. But also shows us what that means in daily life. Having seen the blood, we should clearly see the love which brought Him to bleed and die. The clear knowledge of that love brings peace and confidence in this world.
People tend to see God one dimensionally. God is the fuzzy headed old man in the sky, or God is sooooooo sweet and loving. Or God is the judge. When trouble comes, when sickness or sorrow knocks, when the logical, earthly results of our actions haunt us, we all reflexively think of the judge. God is punishing me, they say. I had this coming, this is because of my sins, they say.
But the blood of Jesus Christ teaches us the love of God for us. He cannot send His Son to die for us and then forget His love and promise to forgive those who believe. He cannot give us that which is most precious and hold back any other blessing which, though good, is of secondary value compared to His only begotten Son. God doesn't punish us for our sins, He has already punished them in Jesus Christ. God blesses and saves those who call upon Him in faith. Just as Paul writes in Romans 5:9: Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
His love also compels us. We cannot receive such love and know such love and not love others in response. We can afford even to love those who hate and persecute us, just as God loved us while we were yet sinners and hated Him. Such love does not come from the human will, however, but from the Holy Spirit at work in each of us. We need only to understand God's love and His will for us to hear and heed the leading of the Spirit of God within each of us who believes: Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord.
Red is one of the colors of Christmas. It probably became associated with Christmas through the holly berry, but I will never be able to see it that way again. Red is the color of the anger of God over sin. Red is the color of the blood shed to buy me back from sin and death and hell. Red is the color which reminds me of the love of God for me, and which should also show through me. The color of Red will always remind me of the Anger and of the blood which made this holiday season necessary, and which makes this holiday season so delightful and so holy!
May you see the delightful and blessed red of the season this year, for Christ's sake.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
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