The Myrrh and the Holly of Christmas
It was Christmas Eve in Brooklyn. I was feeling happy because things were going well with my church. As a young minister I had just had a fine visit with some parishioners and was saying good-by to them.
Suddenly a pair of wreaths on the house across the street caught my eye. One was the traditional red bow, bright and gay. But the other was a somber black, a funeral wreath.
Hesitantly I went up to the door and rang the bell. A tall young man opened the door. I told him that I was a minister whose church was in the neighborhood. I had seen the wreaths, I said, and wanted to offer my sympathy.
"Come in,” he said quietly. In the center of the room was a small casket. In it was the body of a little girl about six years old, lying there in a pretty white dress, ironed fresh and clean.
I could barely speak. What a Christmas Eve, I thought. Alone in a new neighborhood, no friends or relatives, a crushing loss. The young man seemed to read my thoughts.
“It’s all right,” he said, as if he were reassuring me. “She’s with the Lord, you know.” His wife, he said, was upstairs with their two smaller children. He took me to meet her.
The young mother was reading to two small boys. She had a lovely face, sad yet serene. And suddenly I knew why this little family had been able to hang two wreaths on the door, one signifying life, the other death.
They had been able to do it because they knew it was all one process, all part of God’s wonderful and merciful and perfect plan for all of us. They had heard the great promise that underlies Christmas: “Because I live, you will live also.”(John 14:19).
That was the gift I received that year, the reaffirmation that the myrrh in the Christmas story is not just a reminder of death, but a symbol of the love that triumphs over death. (Christmas stories from Norman Vincent Peale).
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone…for there is a child born for us, a son given to us.” (Isaiah 9:1-6).
The evergreen holly of Christmas wreathes so aptly symbolizes life, eternity, even Christ. The myrrh, on the other hand represents the bitter perfume of anointing the dead, as in the true Christmas story above. The great message of Christmas joy carried the young family through that Christmas.
Peale tells us the couple joined the young minister’s church and never failed to chare their Christmas joys in the years ahead through cards and visits. Christmas truly is the season to lift up those who are downtrodden.
The man, Christ, echoes the good news: “I am the good shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11). “Come to me all who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).
“My dear people, since God has loved us so much, we too should love one another.” (John 4:11). God loves you and he loves me. In our darkest moments he is there for us, his angels at our sides. That is why we can join the heavenly chorus and cry out “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to everybody!”