This week’s Crux, posts the day after most Christians celebrate the anniversary of the incarnation. With all of the festivities, family gatherings and ministry stuff I had considered taking the easy way out and either skip posting this week or repost The Gift, an article Joy wrote in 1996 for the Journal (we posted it in the Crux in 2012).
There is of course, the typical wrangling as to the meaning of the day and the holiday. Secularists are working hard and it seems somewhat effectively to divorce it from anything to do with God. The idea that a supreme deity even exists is too much for them to believe. It stretches their credulity even more to think that such a being would deign to take on human flesh much less going through the process of being born in the form of a defenseless baby.
Many in cults, like Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Christians, hold that Christmas is a pagan celebration having little or nothing to do with the incarnation of The Savior. The Biblical Archeology Society “How December 25 Became Christmas” on their Bible History Daily weigh in on the question. They do a balanced job and note that the information from the first and second century on the topic is sparse:
There is no mention of birth celebrations in the writings of early Christian writers such as Irenaeus (c. 130–200) or Tertullian (c. 160–225). Origen of Alexandria (c. 165–264) goes so far as to mock Roman celebrations of birth anniversaries, dismissing them as “pagan” practices—a strong indication that Jesus’ birth was not marked with similar festivities at that place and time.1 As far as we can tell, Christmas was not celebrated at all at this point.
But, they don’t stop there. A bit further on we read:
Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception. Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.
A fairly good and somewhat lengthy treatment is Lutheran Pastor Dr. Richard P. Bucher’s “Christmas is Not Pagan”. Of course, there is always “Horus Ruins Christmas” which gives the information with a touch of satire.
The objections which are raised miss the point. It isn’t really about which day the incarnation occurred or the origin of particular rituals and practices but rather, what is our heart attitude? At its core, Christmas is a reminder. It is a season of reminders in fact. It begins as a reminder that God, the creator and sustainer of all of creation, took on weak, frail human flesh. The one Whom the Apostle Paul described in Colossians 1:15 as the “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Why? To live a life of righteousness that we, all of us, are incapable of living. Why? In order to provide a perfect sacrifice to pay for the sin of all humanity, including you and yes, yours truly. The birth, 2,000 years ago was the first step on the road to sacrifice by crucifixion. Come to think of it, that is what the angel said in Luke 2:10-12:
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
As we see in Him, the image of the invisible God once we are redeemed we are to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” The gift of the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection is that we who are born again should reflect the imago dei or image of God (Colossians 3:10). And so, on this day or remembrance and celebration we can say along with the Apostle Paul “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)Ω
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