Did you ever notice how people used to talk about the true meaning of
Christmas? The answers often included the ideas of a season of good will, a
time for generosity and gift giving, and for Christians, commemorating the
coming of Christ to redeem a lost creation.
Most recently, our culture appears to be struggling with the word
“Christmas” itself. Some major department stores no longer use the word in
their ads, TV personalities trip over themselves to avoid using it, and
there’s lots of talk in the news about the banning of religious symbols like
Nativity scenes. How should Christians respond to all of this? A little
history may help us gain some perspective.
Before the time of Christ, December 25th was identified with ancient pagan
celebrations like Natalis Invicti, the Feast of Saturnalia, and the birth of
Mithra, the sun-god deity. There was lots of gift giving, feasting, candle
lighting, evergreen decorating, and celebration.
The identification of the birth of Christ with December 25th dates back as
far as Hippolytus (165-235 AD) and was reaffirmed in 386 AD by Chrysostom.
Then in 525 AD a monk named Dionysius Exiguus, in an attempt to determine
the date of Christ’s resurrection, did some specious history along with some
bad math, and wrongly fixed the year of Christ’s birth in the process. The
error was overlooked then but now we know the monk was off by a few years
and he also forgot to make room for the pivot year “0” in the BC/AD
As Christianity grew in popularity, the December 25th date and some of the
practices surrounding the pagan festivals were assimilated by the Western
church and incorporated into a celebration of the birth of Christ.
Meanwhile, the Eastern church identified the birth of Christ with the date
of January 6th.
What am I trying to say? Well the simple fact is, we don’t really know the
precise date of the birth of Christ. Evidently, that wasn’t the most
important thing God wanted us to remember. And well intentioned Christians
have disagreed on the potential dates. So let me ask, do we really need the
endorsement of a national holiday to celebrate the coming of Christ? There’s
no question that He came, all the best evidence supports His historical
reality. And scripture makes it clear that when Jesus came, He came to save
His people from their sins, to make a way for us to live at peace with God.
Whatever happens in the culture wars over the date of December 25th, or the
use of the word “Christmas”, or the public display of its time-cherished
symbols, I for one simply must celebrate the amazing impact of His coming
into the world. After all, it’s good news of great joy for all people!
Jim Thomas, Pastor
The Village Chapel
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