Chris Haughee: Concerning Chrismons: why is there a lamb on my tree?
Concerning Chrismons

Chris Haughee: Concerning Chrismons: why is there a lamb on my tree?

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This past year, I took the opportunity to write a book on one of my favorite religious holiday traditions — Chrismons and the Chrismon tree.

We had a tree with these special religious ornaments on it in the Lutheran church I grew up in as well as at First Presbyterian Church here in Helena, where I served for a little over seven years as the associate pastor.

Chrismons, or “Christ monograms” are all hung on an evergreen tree, the Chrismon tree. The book is entitled "25 Symbols of Christmas," and has devotionals for each day of December leading up to Christmas morning. One of my favorite symbols is that of the lamb.

The “Lamb of God,” or in Latin Agnus Dei, is a religious symbol with rich meaning. It is a symbol that reminds me of one of my fiercest spiritual battles. “What would that be?” You ask… Perfectionism. It’s a problem I have inherited from my mother. As a result, a good deal of my natural bent is to make self-assessments of my worth based on my performance.

Perfectionism is an ugly disease of the soul that is only cured by acceptance of the grace of God. Even then, I know in my case at least, the effects of perfectionistic tendencies take decades to work through… especially as they bleed over into my other aspects of my spirituality.

You see, I think I would have made a great Pharisee. If it was about keeping the rules better than others, I could probably fool myself into some level of self-acceptance. I could maintain a good enough image on the outside to appropriately fool most people.

However, the truth would have still rung loudly in my soul: I am NOT perfect, and I cannot meet the demands of the law of God, which requires perfection. A sacrifice is necessary, and one such sacrifice is suggested in the New Testament scriptures. The Apostle John uses John the Baptist’s quote about the Lamb of God to signify who Jesus was in the opening lines of his gospel, as well as in his apocalyptic vision called the Revelation of John.

“Look! Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him” (Revelation 22:1-3).

Why a lamb? Why is it the “lamb” of God that takes away our sin? How is it that this lamb deserves to be on the throne, worshipped in heaven? What significance does this lamb have that has made it a symbol of Jesus, the Savior born in Bethlehem?

Well, according to Levitical law, it was the sacrifice of a bull or a goat that was most common for atoning for sin (though Leviticus 4:22 does mention a lamb as a suitable sacrifice for a sin offering).

Most likely, the image that we are meant to draw from John the Baptist’s words designating Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” are the larger images of the substitute sacrifice provided for Abraham that spared Isaac (Genesis 22:13) and the Passover lamb whose blood was placed on the doorposts of the families of God’s people in Egypt in order to escape the punishment and judgment that came with the 10th and most severe plague (Exodus 12:1-13).

Adding to the possible symbolic significance is the idea that the Passover lamb was to be eaten by the household on that night as they prepared themselves to be freed from slavery the next morning. These may be seen as foreshadowing the reinterpretation of the Passover meal by Jesus as the “Lord’s Table” in which he likens his body to the bread and asks that all take and eat.

These symbolic references have no hard and fast interpretations that we can rely upon as THE way to understand their significance. The main idea is to see the theme of sacrifice and atonement for sin by a substitute’s blood being shed in our place as the key elements for understanding what Jesus has done for us.

The sacrificial animal, whether a goat, bull, or ram, was to be spotless, pure and without defect. This is certainly true of Jesus, who was without sin. As Paul states, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

This is good news for anyone, but especially for recovering perfectionists like me.

The Reverend Dr. Chris Haughee is a licensed minister of the Evangelical Covenant Church and has served in a variety of ministry settings, most recently as a chaplain to children in a residential setting. An adoptive father to two, Haughee is an advocate for greater inclusion of foster and adoptive families in the life and ministry of local congregations. He has written a curriculum to introduce churches to trauma-informed ministry practices called Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Wicks, utilized by hundreds of ministries in 35 states and four countries. You can follow his ministry on Facebook (@revchrishaughee), or contact him at pastorhaughee@yahoo.com.

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