Some say that Christ wasn’t born on December 25th. They claim that Christians took the date from a Roman holiday honoring the sun or a sun god. While modern historians disagree about this theory many agree that the Romans revered the sun. According to my Britannica Encyclopedia, Christians took the date to rival the pagan feasts that took place during the Winter Solstice, which honored a new age brought by the sun. Depending on location, the Winter Solstice occurs on or around December 25th. Even though it lasts only an instant in time, many cultures have held festivals marking it as midwinter. According to some, Christmas simply grew to be one of the most popular events.
Nonetheless, every year by the time we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving festive decorations acknowledging the birth of Christ appear in overwhelming numbers across the American landscape. A majority of homes have wreaths on their doors, candles in their windows, lights in the yards and red bows on their mailboxes. The stores and malls turn red and green with celebratory ribbons, sale signs and replicas of reindeer or other symbols of the season. And jolly old Santa Claus sits in the middle of the mall to greet youngsters. In spite of attempts to outlaw nativity scenes they abound on people’s lawns and even in some public areas. Christmas carols fill the airways. And this country’s biggest celebration continues until after December 25th, so when is Christmas?
While many open their presents on Christmas Day we open ours on Christmas Eve after we stuff ourselves with turkey, dressing, sweet potato casserole and pecan pie. Usually I rush to put away the dishes and clean up our great room so we can make the midnight service at church. Then, we hurry out the door into the brisk, cold night. Because we’re running late I fidget in the passenger seat of the car, wishing I could make it go faster. Finally, I see the church lit up like a beacon in the still, quiet darkness. After we park and walk quickly inside we find three seats on the back pew.
I settle myself and try to hush the thoughts of shopping, baking and wrapping that linger in my head by gazing at the green wreaths, poinsettias and brilliantly lit Christmas tree around the altar. When I turn in my hymnal to “O Come All Ye Faithful” and the choir and congregation start singing, the loud, joyous sound of the season captures my heart. After a family lights the Christ candle on the Advent wreath, which symbolizes Jesus as the light of the world, the minister reads the story of Jesus’ birth and proclaims once again his gospel of love. At the end of the service the ushers dim the lights, give each parishioner a candle and light the first candle on each row. One by one we tip our flames to the candle of the person beside us and sing “Silent Night.” The flickering lights gradually illuminate the sanctuary and the sweet melody takes me back to the first Christmas, when the angels announced Christ’s birth, the shepherds left their flocks and the wise men started their journey to the manger. After we blow out our candles the service ends with the powerful sound of the choir singing Handel’s "Messiah," and it is Christmas. Sadly, someone had to crucify Christ to atone for the sins of all of us, but triumphantly he rose to give us salvation. And he lives today. Christmas is when we open our hearts to him.
Isaiah 9: 6, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah 53: 6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Matthew 20: 18 - 19, “…They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life.”
Geotz, editor-in-chief, Britannica Encyclopedia, Chicago, Il., vol. 16, 1987.