by Donald J. Barthelmeh
from KNIGHT TEMPLAR magazine Vol. 34 No. 12 December 88
No season is so rich in signs and symbols as is 
Christmastide.  We are literally surrounded by beauty, 
artistry, craftsmanship, and creative ability, as so 
many visual expressions draw our attention to the birth 
of Christ.  The stars of silver, gold, and shining blue 
remind us of the new star seen in the east.  Every 
Carol breathes the spirit of angelic voices.  Greens of
every description remind us of the eternalness of 
life with God.  Our gifts to others imply the greater 
gift we would offer to the baby Jesus.
Of the scenes of Christmas, none is more beautiful than 
the shepherds on the hillside watching their flocks 
by night, with crooks in hand, about their humble business 
of guarding and keeping safe their flocks.  From here 
they receive the announcement, "Unto you is born a 
Savior." (Luke 2:11 KJV) Then they joined together to 
go "see the great sight which had come to pass." (Luke 2:15)
The shepherd's crook was at the first service of worship 
of the Christ.  Its counterpart is our candy cane - so 
old as a symbol that we have nearly forgotten its origin. 
We are immediately attracted by its color - the red and 
the white.  Red is for sacrifice; white is for purity.  
The body of the cane is white, representing the life that 
is pure, or that may be pure: "Blessed are the pure in 
heart, for they shall see God." (Matthew 5:8 RSV) But 
only in so far as we are pure do men see God; not yonder 
but here, not then but now, shall we see Him.  As you are 
pure, so shall He be to you.  Even as the Christ Child 
came in all purity, so do we seek the purity of life He 
brings.  Even as the shepherds came in humility and purity 
of purpose, so is our worship always to be in humbleness 
before the Lord.
The broad red stripe is symbolic of our Lord's sacrifice 
for us.  We may celebrate the birth of a child, Jesus, 
but we must also be mindful of the man, Christ.  Christmas 
always brings us ultimately to Calvary.  We pause to 
reflect on who we find yonder on Calvary's tree.  Just 
as we take the Christmas tree to mark His birth, so we 
transpose it into an old rugged cross in Lent to remind 
us that God "came down at Christmas" to reveal His love 
and to prove the extent of His love.  He gave His life 
on the cross in sacrifice for our sin.
And then the many smaller stripes: these symbolize the 
sacrifices we must make as Christians, the offerings we 
would bring to be intertwined with the supreme sacrifice 
of our Savior.  They may mean the wounded sheep He has 
brought to the fold or the scars of our sorrows, which 
the Good Shepherd bore for us, or the lesser pains and 
sufferings we must bear in witness to Him in whom we 
believe. The form - a staff - suggests a symbol of 
service: the Savior Shepherd seeking His own with 
a determination that none shall perish; we fulfilling 
our purpose as those who He has called to serve even 
as He came to serve.  The form of a staff suggests life 
is a service, even as the Christian life is a worship.
But of course the color and form give way to the aroma 
of peppermint and its pungent taste.  Peppermint is akin 
to the aromatic herb hyssop; recall the Psalmist's 
plea (5:17): Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: 
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Old Testament scholars suggest the use of hyssop not 
only for its delightful taste but also for medicinal 
purposes.  A healing nature is suggested.  What better 
symbolism at Christmas for us, for we are told, 
"With his stripes we are healed"?(Isaiah 53:5)
It is candy, and candy cane is to be shared - broken 
down into myriad pieces for all to share.  It draws 
us into a fellowship of sharing.  How good it is to 
remind ourselves of Jesus' statement, "This is my 
body," broken for us. (Matthew 26:26)  Just as Jesus' 
body is broken in order to be shared, just so our 
lives as good stewards must be shared.  We come to 
realize as children of God and sharers of Christ's 
life that only as we give shall we receive!
Love came down at Christmas, all lovely and divine.  
Now in the season of Christmas we seek to spread 
that love among all men.  One symbol is the shepherd's 
crook, made visible in its implications through a 
candy cane.  It calls us to serve; its red bands direct 
us to a life of sacrifice; its essence of mint relates 
the tastefulness of those who would share.  We are 
also reminded that our lives might be pure, made 
white by the sacrifice of our Savior, circling 
ourselves and spiraling up into lives of love and peace.

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