Candy Cane Christmas
By Ed Young
December 24, 2015
Christmas is one of the most candy-centric times of the year. From smooth milk chocolate to hard coated pieces, more candy will be consumed during this time of year than almost any other. Yet, of all the candy bought, sold, and eaten this time of year, the unquestioned king is the candy cane.
In this special Christmas Eve message, Pastor Ed Young unwraps the imagery of the candy cane. As we look at the many aspects of the candy cane, we come to realize that what it is truly pointing us toward is more than the king of candy – it’s showing us the way to experience life with the King of kings, Jesus Christ!
Well, Merry Christmas to everyone! I think it’s kind of an obvious point to say that we all love candy, don’t you? Everybody loves candy and that’s why we decided to call this Christmas experience a Candy Cane Christmas. There’s no doubt about it, the candy cane is the king of all candy over the Christmas holidays. Over 2 billion candy canes are sold during the four weeks of the Christmas holidays. That’s a lot of cane, man. That’s some serious, serious candy. Moreover, I read this on the world wide web, you know it’s true, the largest candy cane in the history of the world, 51 feet long. Again, that’s a giant candy cane. But we love candy. I mean, I like candy cane. I don’t know if I love candy cane, but I like candy cane. What’s your favorite candy? Don’t blurt it out. Mine is, not that you care but I’ll tell you, mine is the ubiquitous Kit-Kat bar. I love Kit-Kat. Sometimes if I’m feeling stressed out now and then I will have a feeding frenzy like a bunch of sharks. I’ll just tear up some candy. Everybody likes candy. In my travels I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of traveling. I’ve never seen a culture that doesn’t like candy. I also found out the average American eats (this is sad but it’s true) 24 pounds of candy a year. Whoa! Man, you’re talking about a sugar high! Whoa!
Well, I thought I’d do a candy test for everyone here because the candy makers, these people are very creative. They know how to get the right combination of salt and sugar and preservatives to keep us coming back. They know how to have these catchy, pithy sayings. They know how to use the different colors on the wrappers to say, whoa! I want some candy! So I’m gonna see how good you are.
They melt in your mouth, not in your hand. <audience: M&Ms> Give me a break, give me a break, break me off a piece of that <audience: Kit-Kat bar>. All right, that’s good. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. <Almond Joy has nuts, Mounds don’t>. We love some candy, don’t we? Now this is a little bit tricky. It’s all in the mix. Twix, yeah, yeah. You guys are pretty candy-centric. I’m very, very impressed. We do have sweet tooths, don’t we? We like things that are sweet. And then we say things that are sweet. Like, we’re playing golf and someone hits a great shot. “Oh, sweet shot! Sweet shot!” we say. Or maybe we see someone, “Sweet outfit, man! That’s sweet!” Or, “I closed a sweet deal.” We like to say that. Sweet, that’s sweet. And then we also use candy. Like guys, this will help you. Call your wives arm candy, because she is! I’m just saying. She’s arm candy and eye candy, right?
Well, today hopefully I can give you some ear candy as we talk about the meaning, the real meaning, of Christmas. Because I can explain Christmas, the Christmas story. If you’re not familiar with it, I can explain the Christmas story using candy. You might be saying, “Ed, get out of town.” I’m serious. Think about this. The Three Musketeers bar (the three wise men) followed the Starburst. It led them to Herod (the Atomic Fireball), and Herod asked his religious leaders (the Snickers) about the birth of Jesus. In the meantime, the angels were singing Almond Joy and the shepherds were Jawbreakers. And these Jolly Ranchers ran to the Power House, the manger, where they saw M&M (Mother Mary) and Pop Rocks (Joseph), swaddling the Savior of the world, the Candy Cane, and if we connect the dots we’ll have a PayDay here and forever! Candy! I told you! Man, you can look at candy! You might be going, “Ed, that’s kind of a stretch. You’re using candy, really? To talk about the Christmas story?”
Well, think about the Bible for a second. The Bible, the best-selling book of all time, it’s been dissected. People have tried to say it’s not real. They’ve thrown this and that at the Bible. The Bible keeps on standing strong. The Bible can take your skepticism. It can take your scientific background. It can take your intellectualism. In fact, God does not want us to check our brains at the doors before we become a Christian. So just check the Bible out.
But here’s something interesting in the Bible. There’s something called numerology. The number 1 is referred to as God, #2 would be sin, #3 is the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, #7 would be a number of completion. The #40 would be a number of suffering. Numerology in the Bible. Then, of course, we have things in the Bible that are illustrations, that are types, that are shadows of Jesus. Stay with me. For example, Jonah was a type of Christ. What? Well, he was in the whale’s belly for three days. Then he was coughed back up on shore. Jesus was buried, three days, rose again. Are you feeling me? Moses, a type of Christ, led the children of Israel out of Egyptian slavery, a type of Christ. So you have different types of Christ. You have the whole sacrificial system in the Old Testament. The killing of lambs, a spotless lamb, an innocent third party would spill its blood to atone for the sins of the people. And of course we know that Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice. He, the Lamb of God, takes away the sins of the world. So all those things are types, are shadows.
And then when the Lord spoke and people were like on the edge of their seats and crowds followed him, he used things that people could identify with. Like, hey, there’s a sower. Hey, here’s a child. A building just fell over. He preached from boat bows and beaches. He drew in the sand. He used things that his culture could connect with. So that’s all we’re doing. We’re just taking the ubiquitous candy cane and saying you can find Christmas in the candy cane.
The Bible says this, very cool verse, Psalm 34. Now when you see something in blocks I want you to say it with me. That means you and me… 1-2-3. “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” Now we take refuge, don’t we, in comfort food, in sweets, especially around this time of year. Too many family members. Too much shopping, too much this and that. It’s like, whoa. I need me some sweets. And most everybody has a sweet tooth. But today we’re gonna hear about a sweet truth, but yes we do have a sweet tooth.
Isn’t it true that we all tried things we thought would satisfy our sweet tooth, yet they ended up actually making us taste a bitter substance? I mean, am I the only one? Whenever we turn away from God and do what we want to do, think about it. It’s like, oh that looks sweet. I’m gonna try that! And we try it and we have that sugar high and then we come down. So we try something else away from God. We have that sugar high, and then we come down. I believe that our taste buds, our soulish taste buds, have drawn us to this place to hear what Christmas is all about. Christmas, let me say it again, is all about the candy cane, and the candy cane is about Christmas. When you walked in you were handed one.
Everyone take the candy cane out. You were handed a piece of this hard candy. This is hard, man. I’ve got a hard head. Look. Yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard. So I don’t know how much these things cost but they cost something and we gave them to you free. They’re wrapped and they’re really tasty. Well, this is not a straight piece of candy. It’s crooked. Man, that speaks to me because I’m not straight, I’m crooked. I have messed up. I’m not a straight arrow, nor are you. The only straight arrow was Jesus and is Jesus. Yeah, we’re crooked. People say, “Oh, he’s a crook!” People say, “She’s a crook!” Well, we’re all crooked. We really are. Sometimes I’ll meet people and they’ll go, “Man, so you’re the pastor of Fellowship Church. That’s a big honkin’ church, man!” And now and then people will say, “You know, I’m just not gonna go to Fellowship because that church, I know some people there. It’s full of hypocrites.” I’ll go, “No, we’re not full of hypocrites. There’s always room for one more.” Because I’m a hypocrite. Everybody’s a hypocrite. We’re all crooked. So we have this problem, we’re crooked. The Bible says we’re born that way. No one taught me how to do what I want to do. No one taught me how to lie or steal or think impure thoughts. No one taught me that. I just know how to do it, so we’ve got a problem. God’s straight. We’re crooked. And this candy cane illustrates that. We sin. Sin is simply missing the mark.
But then also, too, I like this candy cane because it’s shaped like a shepherd’s staff. Jesus is called the Good Shepherd. A shepherd’s staff. So he uses a shepherd’s staff. And if you go to Israel, like I’ve gone many times, the shepherd’s staff is used to nudge sheep. Isn’t it true sometimes that, and you know human beings the Bible compares us to sheep. Baaaaa! That’s a weak sheep, isn’t it. Baaaaa!!! That’s better. It’s better. Baaaaa! Because we’re all baaaa-ad, right? We all do what we want to do. We’re like sheep. And sheep, I do know this about sheep. You can lead a sheep just off a cliff. That sheep will just go baaaaaaaa-boom! They’re not that smart. A good shepherd, though, lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. In fact, in John, chapter 10, we’re ready to read again. “I am the Good Shepherd.” That’s what Jesus said. “I know my sheep and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. I lay down my life for the sheep.” I’ve seen shepherds in Israel with four or five flocks all mixed together and I’m thinking how in the heck do they know which sheep are theirs and which sheep are the others’. They have this distinctive little whistle. Aaaaa-aaa! Aaaa-aaa! Or <whistle> … everyone has a different one. And those sheep, they know the whistle of their shepherd. Jesus is speaking to you and to me. He’s calling you and me. We have a freedom of choice. We’re not robots. We either turn and follow him or not. Jesus nudges us. The shepherd protects and perfects. The guides and provides. And Jesus, you know what Jesus is into? He is into going after lost sheep. Isn’t that great? That’s how much we matter to God. We matter so much to God. In fact, you can read Luke 15 as Jesus talks about lost sheep and a lost coin and a lost son. And he said when all those things are found there’s a par-tay that goes on. So the shepherd is looking for those sheep and he uses the shepherd’s staff to gently corral them and move them into the fold.
And Jesus is doing that, if you’re a follower of Christ. I’m a follower of Christ. The Lord has straightened me out by his grace, not by my works, but by my faith and what he did on the cross for me. But as a Christian I should understand that I am a candy cane to some people. And that’s a heavy responsibility. That means that we can be Jesus to people. In fact, Lisa and I were on a flight about a week ago with a young woman and she began to share her story with us. She has just an amazing story, and the more she talked the more I thought about, man, this girl is a candy cane in her sphere of influence! God has placed her where she is to be that candy cane, to lovingly and gently bring her friends into the fold. So maybe someone invited you here. Maybe you’re like, man my wife drug me here… or drugged me here. I don’t know. I didn’t sign up to go to church but it’s Christmas Eve and I’m gonna go with the program. I understand that! God uses all sorts of things to bring us into a relationship with him. Yet, you have to make the call. I have to make the call.
Another thing that the shepherd does and this is not too popular to talk about but I’ve got to talk about it. The Good Shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. You know the Bible talks a lot about eternity. And it says that we choose eternity. God does not slam-dunk people to a Christ-less eternity. We choose that. Yet at the end of the hunt, when we clock out of here, those of us who are sheep, those of us who have responded to Christ’s voice will spend eternity with him in Heaven. Those who have not, the goats, will face a Christless eternity. Yet human beings choose a Christless eternity. So if you are a goat, and end up being a goat, you’ll have to go against the will of the Good Shepherd. But that’s something else the Good Shepherd does, and that’s simply why we have church, one of the reasons. That’s why we are so focused on people, because Jesus is focused on people. People matter to God and people are spending an eternity on the other side of the grave either in Heaven – it’s not popular to talk about. It’s not sexy to talk about but I’ve got to – or in Hell. The shepherd’s staff. He wants to be your shepherd. He has a great plan for your life.
Also, notice this. The dominant color of this candy cane is white. White stands for purity. I am not pure, nor are you. On my best day after by best sermon, best funeral, best wedding, I’m not pure. No one is pure. Well, we have a problem. God is pure. He can’t look at anything dirty, anything sinful, so what did he do? He sent Jesus. He was born in a manger. Jesus, who crawled out of a manger, lived a sinless life, a righteous life, a life totally pure. Died sacrificially, rose bodily, now we have an opportunity to receive Christ. And if we receive Christ he comes in and makes our lives as white as snow. Nothing that I do, something that he has done but I simply receive what he has done. So now when God sees me he doesn’t see, well, there’s Ed Young. He’s totally impure. No, no. He sees the purity of his Son.
Isaiah chapter 1, verse 18 says, “’Come now, let’s settle this,’ says the Lord, ‘though your sins are like scarlet I will make them as white as snow.’” How sweet is that? That is a sweet deal! That’s the sweetest deal in the world! The candy cane. It’s crooked. The candy cane, a shepherd’s staff. It’s about the purity that’s offered to us in Christ.
And see the red stripe? That’s the blood of Jesus. You heard me say earlier that in the Old Testament they killed unblemished animals. They would spill the blood of a third party to atone for the sins of man. Well, Jesus, after he died on the cross, spilled his blood conquered death, it was the death of death, his blood sacrifice cleanses you and me. It purifies you and me. It power washes you and me. That’s Christmas. I mean, I could go on and on.
It has a peppermint flavor. You know peppermint is sort of like the hyssop plant. The hyssop plant was used back in the Old Testament when the Israelites were leaving Egyptian slavery again they took an unblemished animal, killed it, took the hyssop plant and used the hyssop plant as a paintbrush to paint the blood over the doorpost so the death angel would pass over the household. The blood saves. There’s power in the blood.
Go to the doctor, what does the doctor say? Man, I want to do your blood work. I want to check your blood work. The doctor dials into it and drills down and we’re finding more and more about how there’s life in the blood. This peppermint.
And this is hard candy, it’s hard, man. And we can think about this. The promises of God, the foundation of the promises of God. We can think about so many things in our culture kind of are on shifting sand, this is just hard. We can build our lives on the foundation of the church. We can count on it because it’s the only thing that Jesus ever built. So this red represents his blood and this peppermint flavor.
And then, you know, if I had this candy cane, I mean I have a giant mouth the size of a large-mouth bass, but I can’t eat it by myself. I’m gonna break it and taste it and share it. And I can tell you about, OK, this is a candy cane and give you the 350-year history of the candy cane and tell you how it was bent and tell you how hot it is if you even actually are a candy maker. I can tell you all about the candy cane. You can believe in the candy cane. But until you unwrap it, until you taste it, you won’t know the essence of the candy cane.
But here’s something else about the candy cane. Real quick. Do like this, that’s the letter J… Jesus! Christmas is about Jesus! What does Jesus mean? God saves. Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega. Jesus, the Beginning and the End. Jesus, the Comforter and Deliverer. My faithful Friend. Jesus, God’s son, the Holy One. The work’s been done. Infallible, justifiable, reliable, message is in the Bible. He’s appointed and he’s anointed, never disjointed. He is the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. If you’re sick he’s the great Physician. If you need guidance he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If you’re dealing with doubt he has wisdom. I’m talking about the candy cane, Jesus. That’s right. Let’s worship him.
Please be seated just for a second. You know, just recently I had something happen to me that was very interesting. It was so paradoxical that I thought, God, maybe you’re telling me something. Maybe I should remember this. And sure enough something happened that I want to share with you. I had the opportunity to do a destination wedding. In fact it was probably the most beautiful wedding I’ve ever officiated. I came back from the wedding. It was out of the country. And I moved from the wedding, 24 hours later, to a funeral. A friend of mine, a good friend of mine in the ministry, Greg Rohlinger, died after a hellacious fight with a disease called multisensory atrophy. Your muscles freeze up. It is horrible. To watch him and to text with him and to see him along the way, it was just… I saw Jesus in his life. Amazing.
Greg had a beautiful wife, four kids, a dynamic church, just an amazing, amazing guy. But the last year and a half the only way he could communicate was through grunts and groans. In fact, the doctors were shocked he was still hanging on. Greg died December 6th at 8:00 a.m. A week later his wife, Lori, faced their anniversary alone for the first time.
“The doorbell rang,” Lori said, “and a florist was there with a gargantuan arrangement of flowers. A love note was there, written by Greg.” Greg had made provision for this gift to his bride days before he died. His death preceded the gift. I said to myself, that’s Christmas. Jesus’ death preceded the gift. God, in his genius, arranged what Jesus did prior to the death, burial, and resurrection and now it’s been presented.
You were given this. A gift demands a response. You either receive it or not. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man or the woman who takes refuge in him.
[Ed ends in closing prayer.]