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Good Morning Nanty Glo!

Advent - 10 days to Christmas

Wednesday, December 15 2004

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

Skip Christmas?

There have been several answers to Monday's post (Putting Dickens back in Christmas) that express lively reactions and which can be read by nonmembers of the list here. But by far the longest, most thoughtful, and most radical answer isn't available on that page, being sent to me separate of the list. It raises some unexpected (though not previously unheard-of) questions that may keep us busy right up to Christmas. It follows:

Today’s point about Dickens illustrates a fact about Christmas: that is, to learn about it you must look in secular sources. Consult any general encyclopedia to learn the origins. Here are two Spanish sources.

Regarding the date for Christmas celebrations, the Enciclopedia de la Religion Catolica frankly states, “The reason that the Roman Church decided to assign this date to the festival seems to be its tendency to replace pagan festivals with Christian ones… We know that in Rome at that time, the pagans consecrated December 25 as the celebration of Natalis invicti, the birth of the ‘invincible sun.’”

The Enciclopedia Hispanica likewise notes: “The date of December 25 for the celebration of Christmas is not the result of a strict chronological anniversary but, rather, of the Christianization of the festivals of the winter solstice that were celebrated in Rome.”

How did the Romans celebrate the rise of the sun in the winter sky? By feasting, revelry, and the exchange of presents. Since church authorities were loath to abolish such a popular festival, they “Christianized” it by calling it the birth of Jesus instead of the birth of the sun.

Over the centuries, several factors have played a decisive role in molding Christmas into the most popular, international celebration for merrymaking and marketing. Also, the customs of other winter festivals, especially those celebrated in northern Europe, were gradually incorporated into the Roman model (e.g. two central parts of the holiday – the tree and the figure of Santa Claus). Dickens contributed.

Then there are inaccuracies with nativity scenes and stories. For example, the three Kings at the birth of Jesus. The Catholic Encyclopedia admits the Bible does not say how many wise men there were, and they were not kings. The account indicates they visited Jesus later than when the shepherds did. Matthew 2:11 states “when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother,” Mary was no longer in a manger. Verse 16 indicates Herod specified killing all infants two years old and under, “according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.”

It’s also interesting that whereas the shepherds were provided angelic guidance to the Saviour’s birth and did not bring gifts, the wise men were provided questionable guidance (involved with the destruction of the Messiah) and did bring gifts.

When was Jesus born? The Bible does not say. There is no account in the Bible of Christians (followers of Christ) celebrating his birth. Surely if it was something to be done, young Timothy would have known about it. If the shepherds were in the field watching their flocks (Luke 2:8), and December is a cold month in that area, possibly even winter-like, it’s probable that he was not born on December 25.

The Bible does quote Jesus many times encouraging the truth. “God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). Also, referring to apostate leaders of his day “you make the word of God invalid by your tradition which you handed down” (Mark 7:13). Very serious charges against these leaders: “You are from your father the Devil … he is a liar and the father of the lie … This is why you do not listen, because you are not from God” (John 8:42-47). Also, the apostle Paul warned Christians to stay away from non-Christian influence (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

Please contrast the many items connected with Christmas with what actually occurred, and the need to recognize the message from Jesus and his immediate disciples. Btw, if he threw the money changers from the temple area, how do you think he feels about all the commercial profits being made in his name, whether the store says “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays” or “Watch that wall”? Will he not say, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23)?

What has happened in Christendom (including, but not only Christmas) reminds me of what happened when Moses was up the mountain receiving instruction. Some of the people below made the golden image and said to the masses: “This is your God who delivered you from Egypt!” That was wrong; Aaron was deceptively misrepresenting God; God did not approve. But if that happened today, modern religious people would say, “It’s OK, just another way to worship God.” But God would say they are corrupt (Exodus 32).

There's much more here than I can respond to this time, but will give just a preview of where we'll go next time.

Why do we need to consult "secular" sources for the history of the early church (especially when Paul warned Christians to stay away from non-Christian influence)? What "secular" institution from times of the Roman Empire has survived to tell the history of the early practices of Christians? The Knights Templar, perhaps (cf. The DaVinci Code, a fictional concoction of ancient conspiracy theories)? But ironically, though I don't know Spanish well enough to say with authority, the first encyclopedia named appears to be a Catholic Church publication. But even more importantly, the official Catholic Encyclopedia, in English, online, has all these "allegations" about the history of Christmas for all to see. It claims no verifiable date for the Lord's birth and openly admits that the birth of Jesus may have been in another time of year.

The Orthodox Church (which was in full communion with Rome for the first millenium of Christian history but has had no official ties to it since c. 1060 A.D.) has always also admitted that the date of December 25 is arbitrary; though some argued that it might be close to the actual date of Christ's birth, others say it's more important to keep it far apart in the church calendar from the resurrection feast ("Easter," or "Pascha," in Orthodoxy), about which the general time frame is not in dispute. And though the line of dispute in the letter above seems to give all blame (or credit) for this history to the Vatican, the same history exists in the Eastern Church, and has been maintained separately from the Vatican by the eastern bishops (who have always considered themselves equal in office to the Pope of Rome, and still do, and do have "issues" with the Vatican, but no serious issues about whether the birth of Jesus Christ and the Incarnation of the Eternal God should be celebrated by the whole church and that December 25 is the best time to do that).

I don't know where the writer is coming from religiously. The Jehovah's Witnesses are the only sizeable "Christian cult" I know of that rejects all observance of Christmas, though I'm aware of some radical Plymouth Brethren (a British-based "Bible church" movement) who also feel it shouldn't be celebrated and who, despite that, are, compared to the JW's, relatively orthodox in their other doctrines. The Puritans of America's colonial period did not celebrate Christmas for reasons similar to those mentioned in the letter above, but were relatively quickly persuaded that there are legitimate reasons to celebrate Christ's birth, and have ever since done so. Let's take up some additional details next time.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy 

A complete index of Jon Kennedy's Jonals for 2004

Christmas chuckles

Mother decided that 10-year-old Cathy should get something "practical" for Christmas. "Suppose we open a savings account for you?" mother suggested. Cathy was delighted. "It's your account, Darling," Mother said as they arrived at the bank, "so you fill out the application." Cathy was doing fine until she came to the space for "Name of your former bank." After a slight hesitation, she put down, "Piggy."

Advent thought for today

There's more, much more, to Christmas
Than candlelight and cheer;
It's the spirit of sweet friendship, That brightens all year.
It's thoughtfulness and kindness, It's hope reborn again,
For peace, for understanding, And for goodwill to men!

Anonymous  

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