1716) Christmas Traditions (part one of three)

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(Belated)

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    Two old girl-friends from high school ran into each other as they were going into a high priced restaurant.  They introduced their husbands, chatted a bit about school days, and then each said they had to leave.  They were meeting some others inside for dinner.  “We are here for our wedding anniversary,” said one, and then asked, “Are you here for anything special?”  “Oh yes,” said the other, “we are here to celebrate our little boy’s third birthday.”  “Oh,” said the friend, obviously puzzled; “but where is he?”  “Well, we left him at home with the babysitter,” said the other, “he is too little to bring to a place like this.”  And the two couples went their separate ways.  “Isn’t that odd?” said the one lady to her husband; “Imagine that, not even including the little fellow in his own birthday celebration.”

     Indeed, who could ever imagine such a thing; that is, unless you count the way Christmas is celebrated by many people.  The Christmas story, of course, has always had something to do with the birthday of a very special child, but many will decorate for the holidays, buy gifts, and make many other elaborate plans and arrangements for their celebration; but at no time in any of it will the birth of the Son of God enter into their mind.  We’ve come a long way from the early days of our country, when in some colonies it was against the law to celebrate Christmas with any kind of outward celebration other than going to church (in order to prevent any distractions from the real purpose of the day).  That kind of legalism may not be necessary, but there is indeed something quite odd about the new legalism of today, which has come to mean that in many settings it is against the law to even mention the true meaning of Christmas (though no one objects to the day off).

      Historically, there have been a several interesting twists and turns in the way this day has been observed.  December 25th actually started out as a pagan holiday in the ancient Roman Empire, celebrating the birth of the ‘sun god,’ and having something to do with the winter solstice, the days starting to get longer, and all of that.  In the fourth century A.D., the Roman Empire was in the process of changing gods.  After his own conversion to Christ in 312 A.D., Emperor Constantine decided to make Christianity the official religion of the entire Roman Empire.  This reflected not only his own new found faith, but also the fact that for many years Christianity had been growing, and was now the most widespread and influential religion in the empire.  The Christian Church could now serve as a tool to unify the widespread and diverse empire; so perhaps Constantine’s religious zeal was motivated by politics (if you can imagine that).

            No longer needing a day to worship the largely forgotten sun god, Constantine encouraged the making of December 25th the day to remember the birth of the Son of God, one who brings another kind of ‘light into the world.’  The New Testament does not tell us actual date of the birth of Jesus, and before Constantine, it was not celebrated on December 25th.  But ever since Constantine, this date has been firmly set as the day to remember the birth of Christ.  It is ironic that for many people in the world, December 25th has now again become completely emptied of any Christian meaning.  (continued…)

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John 1:1-14  —  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

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O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light.

–O Come, O Come, Immanuel, verse 3, 12th century antiphon, translated by John Mason Neale, 1851

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