Some say Christ wasn’t born on December 25th. They claim 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. Some claim 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.
Every year in late October, festive decorations acknowledging the birth of Christ begin to appear in overwhelming numbers across the American landscape. By early December, a majority of homes have wreaths on their doors, candles in their windows, lights in the yards and red bows on their mailboxes. And jolly old Santa Claus sits in the middle of the mall to greet youngsters. Nativity scenes abound on people’s lawns, 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, but first we hurry out the door into a brisk, cold afternoon to attend a church service. Because we’re running late I fidget in the passenger seat of the car until we arrive.
Inside the church, I settle myself and try to hush the thoughts of shopping, baking and wrapping that linger in my head by gazing at the poinsettias and brilliantly lit Christmas tree at 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 overhead 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, Christ was crucified 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.”