Dec. 12, 2018 Midweek Advent II Chrismon Sermon Series: “Rx or Xp?”
Many of you will recognize the meaning of this symbol even if you don’t know the word it is shorthand for. Rx was the abbreviation for the Latin and Greek word for Recipe “Radix” radix. It came into usage during the high point of Roman medicine when the doctor no longer took the time to diagnose and give out the medicine. A new specialized doctor came on the scene. One who was gifted at putting together the medicines the doctor (who had done the diagnosis) now recommended for the ailment. This specialized doctor became known as the pharmacist.
Rx (the recipe type of ingredients, amounts of those ingredients, and instructions on how the patient was to take them) was what doctors would write out for the pharmacist. People shortened the word recipe to its first and last letters “Rx” perhaps to make fulfilling this type of recipe seem more serious than a cupcake or meatloaf. “The doctor gave me an Rx for the pharmacy” sounds better than “the doctor gave me a recipe to share with the pharmacist.”
How’s this connect with our advent sermon series on Chrismons? Well, as I’ve said previously Chrismons are symbols of Christ. And the symbol I want to talk about tonight is much like the Pharmacy symbol but instead of Rx (Rho Chi) its Xp (Chi Rho). Chi Rho were the first two letters for the Greek word Christ. Chi Rho is generally accepted as the very first Chrismon. Its usage is found carved on walls of caves Christians used in the first century AD to secretly worship in while the religion was banned by the Roman Empire.
The abbreviation wasn’t just convenient for short hand but it was also visually helpful in sharing the good news of Christ. If one over laps the two letters you get what looks like a cross with a head on it. One can imagine how this symbol might quickly catch on as an easy association with Jesus Christ who died on a cross for our sins.
It is also interesting that the Chi Rho symbol was the first legally valid symbols for Christ. Remember I said it dates back to the first century when Christianity was outlawed? Well, in the third century the Roman Emperor Constantine was praying hard for a victory over his enemies at the Milvian Bridge. He received a vision where his standard bearers were carrying this image and heard a voice tell him “Conquer by this.” He had all his standards changed to the symbol of Chi Rho and won the day and went on to win many more battles with this sign. Soon after Constantine lifted the ban on Christianity and eventually on his death bed decreed it the official religion of Rome.
Constantine saw this sign as a way to conquer. I think we too can see it as a sign of conquering the world, but not in creating our own little empire. Rather we can find victory over this world as Paul says in Corinthians 15: 56-58 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
I like to think of this symbol as the Christian prescription for what is wrong with the world and the Christian prescription for what can make us whole. The prescription for what ails this world is God’s love. The prescription for what can make us whole is God’s love poured out on the cross through his son Jesus Christ on that Good Friday. I also think its interesting that you can also look at the Chi Rho and see it as a Christmas decoration. The X making the manger and the Rho being the head of the Christ child laying in the manger. You can also look at the rho above the V of the X as a head coming up out of the grave. Chi Rho as a symbol of Easter as well.
However, you want to picture it, try to remember its meaning first and foremost Christ our new born king, Christ our savior, Christ who gives us victory. Christ is willing to leave the halls of heaven to lay in a bed of straw so that you and I will never be alone. Christ is willing to sacrifice himself on the cross so that you and I are not perennial and eternal losers but rather forgiven and valued children of God. Christ is victorious over the world, and the grave. That’s your prescription for wholeness, happiness, and life. That’s your Chrismon for this Christmas.
Let us pray: Come Lord Jesus be our guest and let all that thou hast given us be blessed. Amen.