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The Characters of Christmas
The Angel Gabriel
Gabriel is an angel, one of the thousands of heavenly messengers who serve the Lord and protect his people. Gabriel is the only angel mentioned by name in the Bible, however. The Scriptures’ reference to the archangel Michael is probably a reference to the Son of God. At the turning point in history the Lord chose Gabriel to announce two important births: The birth of the Savior’s forerunner, John the Baptist, to his father Zachariah (Luke 1:19); and the birth of God’s Son to the Virgin Mary (Luke 2:26). It may be that Gabriel also communicated several times with Joseph, Mary’s husband (Matthew 1:20, 2:13, 2:20).
Zachariah was one of hundreds of designated priests who shared priestly duties in the temple in Jerusalem. He was married to Elizabeth and in old age they had no children. Gabriel appeared to Zachariah and shared the news that Elizabeth would become pregnant. Her son was to be named John and he would prepare people for the start of Jesus’ ministry. The Bible shares this story in Luke 1:5-25. Zachariah’s song of joy, called the Bendictus, is recorded in Luke 1:68-79.
Zachariah’s wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of the priestly families and was a relative of the Virgin Mary. Soon after Mary became pregnant she traveled from her home in Nazareth to Judea and spent about three months at Elizabeth’s home. The two mothers-to-be rejoiced over their pregnancies but also about the sons who would bring salvation to the world. It was with Elizabeth that Mary sang her famous hymn, Magnificat. Elizabeth’s time with Mary and Mary’s song are found in Luke 1:39-56.  
John the Baptist
John’s ministry as the forerunner or “advance man” for Jesus was predicted in the Old Testament. He was to be the new Elijah (Malachi 4:5) and would lead the people to turn away from sin and believe in the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. Although we remember John the Baptist in the weeks before Christmas, his ministry began years after Christmas as Jesus prepared to begin his work. All four Gospel writers tell us about John the Baptist. 
The Bible writers portray Mary as a humble, God-fearing young woman, perhaps as young as 16, who was engaged to be married to Joseph, a resident of Nazareth in the northern province of Galilee. Both were descendants of King David. Gabriel’s appearance and announcement changed Mary’s life forever. Although a virgin, she would give birth to a son who would be called the Son of God and would inherit the eternal throne of David. Mary’s story, recorded in Luke 2, is known even to children. She had children with her husband Joseph after Jesus was born and often traveled with Jesus’ followers on his ministry journeys. She witnessed his death and resurrection. The greatest tragedy of her life is that some churches consider her to be the source of salvation and to have equal status as her Son in redeeming the world.    
Although surprised and hurt by her pregnancy, Joseph was ready to treat his fiancée Mary with kindness. After Gabriel appeared to inform him of the divine situation, Joseph willingly and eagerly cared for Mary and her son (Matthew 1:18-25) who was his son by law and in love. He protected Jesus from the threats of King Herod (Matthew 2:13-15) and searched for Jesus when he remained in Jerusalem at age 12 (Luke 2:41). We do not hear about Joseph after Jesus’ 12th birthday. Although the Bible is silent, we assume Joseph died and this is what led Jesus to place the care of his mother into the hands of his disciple John (John 19:26-27).   
The Shepherds
Not meaning to spoil the traditional picture of the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem, but the shepherds may not have been either poor or cold. Professional shepherds made good money and weren’t about to entrust their sheep to hirelings. We don’t know the exact date of Christmas so identifying the season in which Jesus was born is impossible. Even in the winter, however, temperatures in Israel rarely fall below 50 degrees; there surely was no snow on the ground! What we do know is that it was night when the angel appeared in terrifying brilliance with good news of great joy and Luke 2:8-20 relates the story many know by heart. The song the angels sang is known as Gloria in excelsis Deo and is still sung by Christians.
Simeon and Anna
These two aged believers were in the temple 40 days after Jesus was born when Joseph, Mary, and Jesus came to offer the traditional sacrifice which accompanied the birth of a first-born son. The Holy Spirit led Simeon to the temple that day because the Lord had promised Simeon that he would see the Lord’s Messiah before he died. Simeon held Jesus in his arms and sang his familiar song, Nunc Dimittis: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:25-35). Simeon also prophesied the realities of Jesus’ ministry.
Anna was a widower and not related to Simeon. The temple was her home and she fasted and prayed there every day. She became an eager evangelist: “She spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38).
The Magi
Magi (translated occasionally as “wise men” and sometimes considered “kings”) were astrologers probably from the land of Persia, far to the east of Israel. As students of the stars they noticed a new star which indicated to them that a new king had arrived in Israel. They set off for Jerusalem with gifts to honor the king. Their trip took months (perhaps not on camels), and Joseph and Mary had moved to a house in Bethlehem by the time they arrived. The Bible mentions three gifts but does not mention three givers nor does it mention their names. Their story appears in Matthew 2:1-11. The Christian Church remembers them on January 6, the Epiphany of our Lord. The connection with the star is in the festival’s title: Epiphany means “shine on.” The Magi were the first Gentile believers.
The Animals
The presence of sheep, donkeys, and oxen in the place where Jesus was born is probably related to traditions which grew out of European farming customs where barns and stables were common. Modern scholarship senses that Jesus was probably born on the lower level of a Bethlehem home (the upper family level, the “inn,” being filled with people because of the census) where pets were sometimes housed in inclement weather. A manger—the word the Bible uses—would been available and that’s where Mary laid Jesus.  

Stained Glass Windows
St. John’s Lutheran Church
Mequon, Wisconsin

Entrance Window
The perfect righteousness of Christ which he demonstrated on the cross by suffering and dying in our place covers our sins and enables us to receive the crown of heaven. St. Paul wrote, “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).

Stained Glass Windows
Although hard substances that diffuse light appear naturally, ancient craftsmen produced synthetic glass by melting and then cooling a mixture of silicon and sand. As the glass cooled it could be shaped into jewelry or rolled into sheets. The sheets could be cut in various forms and bonded together with strips of lead. These bonded pieces of cut glass eventually became windows.   
Soon after they invented glass, craftsmen in Egypt and Rome invented colored glass or stained glass by mixing metallic oxides with the molten glass. Mixing copper produced green glass; cadmium produced yellow glass. Red glass was produced by gold additives and was the most expensive glass to make.
Christians found it natural to install stained glass windows in their churches. The combination of light and beauty stirred believers to good deeds and visions of heaven. At first the windows were small and the glass designs were primitive, but stained-glass windows became an important art form in the great churches of Europe after the 11th century. Artists also developed the skill of painting images on stained glass and could depict the important persons, events, and symbols of the Christian religion on the colored glass. Stained glass windows became the Bible story books for illiterate Christians of the Middle Ages.  
After the Reformation Lutheran churches retained their love for the church’s artistic heritage and splendor. Lutherans in America continued to adorn their churches with stained glass windows. The best craftsmen were in Germany and windows in many WELS churches were made by German firms. Soon companies were founded in America and churches installed stained glass windows that were perhaps a little less splendid but also less expensive.
The stained-glass windows in our church were made by cutting simple designs from sheets of colored glass and then bonding them together with strips of lead. In the center of the window a circle of cut glass and lead strips was created and an image was painted on the glass in the circle. Six of our nave windows and the window over the church entrance are of this type. Two windows in the nave consist of uniquely-cut glass pieces and more involved painting. Windows in the narthex, tower, and balcony contain stained glass but without symbols.  
From what we know, the windows were purchased and installed when the church was built in 1925-26. It is likely that the designs were chosen from a company’s catalogue. The nave windows seem to have been chosen as pairs with similar concepts facing each other from each side of the nave.
North Nave Windows
These windows contain symbols of the two chief teachings of the Scriptures, the law and the gospel. God’s moral law, his unchanging will for us, shows us our sins and condemns us. It is depicted by the tables of stone which God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai and includes the numbers in Latin of the Ten Commandments. (Sadly, we are not able to see this symbol since it is covered for the sake of clear vision on the screen.) The gospel is symbolized by an open Bible. From beginning to end, God’s inspired Word proclaims that he forgives our sins through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ.
North Central Nave Windows

Both windows contain symbols of the Church, the body of believers. The sheaf of wheat symbolizes that true Christians are gathered close to Christ but surrounded by weeds: unbelievers and hypocrites (Matthew 24). The grapes hanging from branches depict our relationship to Jesus who said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5).
South Central Nave Windows

Jesus stands at the door of our hearts and enters through faith (Revelation 3:20).  Jesus said “I am the good shepherd and I lay down my life for the sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life” (John 10:14, 27). 
South Nave Windows
Both symbols symbolize hope and certainty. The anchor that is Christ holds us fast during the storms of life. The dove with the olive branch reminded Noah and assures us that the Lord always protects and cares for his people.

 Symbols on the Balcony Railing



While not of stained glass, the symbols on the facing of the balcony are interesting and remind us of important Bible truths.
Face the balcony and match the symbols with the information that follows.


The Four Evangelists

At the center of the balcony rail are the symbols of the four Evangelists

Matthew, the man + Mark, the Lion + Luke, the Ox + John, the eagle

All of the Evangelists are symbolized as angels, since they are the messengers of God’s good news in Christ.
Matthew, the man –Matthew is symbolized as a man because he traces and focuses on the human nature of Jesus. Matthew was an apostle and a witness of many of Jesus’ words and works.
Mark, the Lion – Mark’s is the shortest Gospel and relates Jesus’ supernatural and kingly power. He opens his account with the powerful preaching of John the Baptist who came to prepare the way for Jesus. Mark gained much of Jesus’ story from Peter, an apostle.
Luke, the Ox – Luke’s Gospel keeps pointing readers to the cross where Jesus offered his life as the sacrifice for sin.  He shows Jesus as the suffering servant who did not come to be served but to serve. Luke gained his information from the apostles and from Mary. Luke is the only writer who adds the details of Jesus’ birth which were known to Mary.
John, the Eagle – John’s Gospel was the last to be written and he adds accounts the other Evangelists did not include. John relates Jesus’ words as the Bread of Life and the Good Shepherd and provides information which only Jesus’ inner circle would know.

Familiar Christian Symbols
Eight symbols appear on each sides of the central Evangelist symbols. The symbols are the same on both sdes.

 The fire of Pentecost     The incense of prayer     The victorious Lamb     A Latin cross     A Jerusalem cross     An encircled Greek cross     The chalice and host     The anchor of hope        
The fire of Pentecost – On the day of Pentecost “what seemed to be tongues of fire” rested on Jesus’ followers. On that day they were appointed and ignited to spread the story of Jesus to the world.
The incense of prayer – As incense rises, so our prayers rise to the throne of God. In Evening Prayer we sing, “Let my prayers rise before you as incense.”
A Latin cross – This is the shape of the cross on which Jesus was crucified on Golgotha. It is the most well known symbol of Christianity.
A Jerusalem cross – From the central cross on which Jesus died are four additional crosses facing the four corners of the earth. What began in Jerusalem went to the world.
An encircled Greek cross – A cross with equal arms, this cross is one of the oldest Christian symbols. It is surrounded by a circle, the symbol of eternity.
The chalice and host – These symbolize the body and blood of Christ which we receive under the bread and wine in Holy Communion.
The anchor of hope – The anchor of Christ’s death and resurrection holds us fast in the troubles and tragedies of life.



The Symbols of the Twelve Apostles

 East Side of Center


Three money bags - St. Matthew     
Matthew’s symbol recalls his job as a tax collector before he followed Jesus.


A carpenter’s square and spear - St. Thomas

Doubting Thomas is believed to have preached in India where he built many churches (the carpenter’s square). He was martyred after being stoned, shot with arrows, and impaled on a spear.


A ship - St. Jude

Also know as Thaddaeus, Jude traveled by ship with Simon the Zealot on missionary journeys.


A fish resting on a book - St. Simon

Jude’s traveling companion, he was a “fisher of people” through the power of the gospel.


A verticle saw - James the Less

Not the James of Jesus’ inner circle, James the son of Alphaeus was probably a cousin of Jesus. After a horrible martyrdom in Jerusalem, his dead body was sawn in half—thus the symbol of the saw.


A money bag and noose - Judas Iscariot

Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, is not often symbolized in churches; occasionally a shield with no symbol attests to him. Our symbol displayes the bag of silver coins he received to betray Jesus as well as the noose with which he hanged himself.


West Side of Center


Two crossed keys - St. Peter

The crossed keys remind us of Jesus’ words following Peter’s confession, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19). Jesus’ gift of the keys is given to all those who have Peter’s faith.


Three shells - St. James

Since scallop shells are found on beaches all over the world, the shell is often a symbol for traveling and pilgrimage. James’ pilgrimage on earth was over soon since he was the first of the apostles to die a martyr’s death.


 A snake rising from cup - St. John

John lived longer than all the other apostles. His enemies tried to kill him by mixing poison with water, but the Lord saved him by drawing the poison out of the cup.


A Tau cross above basket - St. Philip

Philip was concerned about feeding the 5,000; hence the bread basket in his symbol. The Tau cross, missing its upper arm, is called the cross of prophecy because it points to the fulfillment of God’s promise through the cross of Christ.


An X cross - St. Andrew

According to tradition, St. Andrew died a martyr’s death in Greece on a cross of this shape. The symbol has been used in military circles and still today forms the historic flag of Scotland.


Three knives - St. Bartholomew

Also known as Nathanael, his symbol consists of flaying knives that were used to skin him alive before he was crucified.