2nd Thursday of Advent

Holly & Mistletoe

Hebrews 9:11-22

11 But Christ has appeared as the high priest of the good things that have happened. He passed through the greater and more perfect meeting tent, which isn’t made by human hands (that is, it’s not a part of this world). 12 He entered the holy of holies once for all by his own blood, not by the blood of goats or calves, securing our deliverance for all time. 13 If the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkled ashes of cows made spiritually contaminated people holy and clean, 14 how much more will the blood of Jesus wash our consciences clean from dead works in order to serve the living God? He offered himself to God through the eternal Spirit as a sacrifice without any flaw.

15 This is why he’s the mediator of a new covenant (which is a will): so that those who are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance on the basis of his death. His death occurred to set them free from the offenses committed under the first covenant. 16 When there is a will, you need to confirm the death of the one who made the will. 17 This is because a will takes effect only after a death, since it’s not in force while the one who made the will is alive. 18 So not even the first covenant was put into effect without blood. 19 Moses took the blood of calves and goats, along with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the Law scroll itself and all the people after he had proclaimed every command of the Law to all the people. 20 While he did it, he said, This is the blood of the covenant that God established for you. 21 And in the same way he sprinkled the meeting tent and also all the equipment that would be used in the priests’ service with blood. 22 Almost everything is cleansed by blood, according to the Law’s regulations, and there is no forgiveness without blood being shed.


Like other symbols of Christmas, it is likely that the pagan use of holly and mistletoe played at least some role in their present use in Christmas ceremonies, but this is less clear since to pagans, they represented fertility symbols.  Both plants symbolize eternity in their evergreen nature.  Evergreens remind us that God and all of God’s characteristics are eternal.  Mistletoe, though, has a less definite background beyond that; it appears that mistletoe may have conveyed a meaning of resurrection.  In myths across pagan Europe mistletoe was present in both the giving of life and in scenes of death.  It seems probable that both life and death were involved in using mistletoe at Christmas.   The Christ Child brought death to sin through his birth, and in his death, has brought new birth to the world.

Fortunately, the meaning of holly has been better preserved, thanks in large part to the carol, The Holly and The Ivy.  Not only are its leaves always green, but the other characteristics of holly are shown to represent Christ.  Holly produces a pure white blossom representing the purity of Christ, not affected by sin.  The holly also possesses a red berry, a prick, and a bitter taste, reminders that Jesus was the one and only true sacrifice for sin.  His red blood was spilled, his brow was pierced by thorns while he was forced to lay aside sweet wine and taste the bitter gall.  As the song reminds us, decorating with holly is a simple way to remember that in the joy of the birth of Mary’s son we see the future death that will bring even greater joy.  The holly is also a great example of how an unchristian symbol can be transformed into a wonderful reminder of the God who created nature.

Merciful God, I thank you today for giving, within your creation, reminders of how you have come to us, and thank you for those gifted enough to see them, may I never lose sight of you in your presence within creation.  Amen.

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