A View of the Guiding Light in a World of Darkness is a devotional that seeks to apply Biblical principles to our everyday lives, written by inspirational speaker and writer, Jeremy Curry.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Luke 2:8-15 (NIV)
This week, billions of people around the world will celebrate Christmas. It is a time when humanity celebrates the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We read about the birth in the verses above noted in Luke. How amazing it must have been to see angels appear and sing glory to our God! Finally, the time had come for the prophecies to come true and the Messiah had come to save all of us from sin.
All of us know that the above passage clearly happened on December 25, right? Wrong. The passage above notes that the shepherds were living out in the fields and watching over their flock at night. However, flocks would not be out in the cold season due to the bad weather in Israel during this time. They were brought in around October and would not return out until after winter. Other factors that indicate that Christ was not born in December are that we read that the inn was full when Mary and Joseph arrived. This is likely due to the many people traveling just after harvest and prior to winter. Some have attempted to calculate an exact date that Jesus was born based on the birth of John the Baptist in relation to when Mary conceived. This data is used in conjunction as to when John’s father, Zechariah, was selected to go into the temple of the Lord, as we find in Luke chapter 1 in an attempt to calculate the exact time of Jesus’ birth. In fact, some churches are so legalistic and want to be so exact about the fact that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25 that they tell Christians and others not to celebrate Christmas.
To take a closer look at the case against celebrating Christmas, let’s dig deeper as to why it is celebrated on December 25. The birth of Christ is first recorded as being celebrated on December 25 in 336 AD under Roman Emperor Constantine. Constantine was the first Christian emperor and thus, he began pushing Rome toward Christianity. As a result, in 350 AD, Pope Julius I officially declared that Christmas was to be celebrated on December 25. Why did he pick this day? Some say it is because he believed that Mary conceived on March 25 (with no real foundation for that fact) and then nine months later would have been when Jesus was born. This obviously would have been calculated as December 25. However, the more likely story is that the Christian church was trying to “piggyback” off of the pagan traditions that were already being celebrated in the Roman Empire, rather than to compete with them. Saturnalia was celebrated from December 17 to around December 23 or 24, honoring the god, Saturn. The winter solstice happened during this time of year with many celebrations, including that of Saturnalia. The Romans believed that the sun was leaving them during the winter solstice and lit candles to scare away darkness, as well as to celebrate the sun and light. This tradition eventually led to the display of Christmas lights in modern America. People also gave gifts in honor of the goddess of vegetation, Strenia. Gifts that were edible were common among people to celebrate a goddess who brought harvest. Later, gifts that were non-edible became commonplace. Mithra, the god of light and wisdom, was said to be born from a rock on December 25. The Mithraic religion was one of the predominant religions in the Roman empire, and the birth of Mithra was celebrated symbolizing the sun.
Since pagans already had traditions they were celebrating this time of year, the church essentially hijacked these traditions and started to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25. As a result, the church began to change the holiday traditions to be less pagan. However, not all Christians believed that carrying on pagan tradition was a good idea. The Puritans were very much against the idea of Christmas, and in fact, spent December 25, 1620 building one of their first structures. Boston even made it illegal to celebrate Christmas from 1659 until 1681. If you were found celebrating Christmas, you would be fined 5 shillings. That is correct; it used to be illegal to celebrate Christmas! While Christmas became legal to celebrate again, much of the tradition had been lost, as the hearts and minds of much of the American colonies had done without it for over two decades. Finally, in 1843, A Christmas Carol was written and people started to remember how and why they could celebrate Christmas again. It wasn’t until 1870 that Christmas became a federal holiday and it continued to evolve throughout the rest of the 19th century and has become what it is today in the 21st century.
If Christmas is rooted in pagan religion traditions and has absolutely zero historically factual accuracy in regards to the birth of Christ, why should we celebrate it at all? Shouldn’t we be like the Puritans (or even a few of the modern day churches) and refuse to celebrate it? Even today, many would say Christmas has become all about consumerism, carrying on in its pagan founding. So, why celebrate it? My answer to that question would be, “why not celebrate it?” For me, it isn’t about celebrating pagan gods. It isn’t simply about buying stuff for people. It is about celebrating the birth of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Was He actually born on December 25? No, but does it really matter? After all, what other time of the year do I get the best opportunity to talk about my faith? Would it really be better if we just never celebrated the birth of our Savior? I cherish the time that I get to be with my friends and family during this time of year, and I get to talk to them about Jesus. I absolutely love giving people gifts in celebration of God’s greatest gift to all of us. Why celebrate Christmas? We certainly never see this as a requirement in any scripture. But, for me, it provides me an opportunity to remember to love the Lord my God with all of my heart, mind, and soul, as well as to love others and to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:36-40). This is why I celebrate Christmas. How about you?
Lord, guide us and keep us this Christmas season. Help us to reach others in Your name. Thank You for Your Son. You know all of us need Your mercy and grace. Thank You for such a precious gift. May others see You in me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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