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Good Morning Nanty Glo!

Advent - 3 days to Christmas

Wednesday, December 22 2004

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

Christmas origin and dates

Fourth in a series in response to a proposal
that Christmas should not be kept

Despite the scenario I put forth on Friday proposing how Christians might have first celebrated the Roman sun festival as the nativity of Christ (the Sun of Righteousness risen with healing in his wings, Malachi 4:2), the best ancient records show that the birthday of Jesus wasn't widely celebrated until three or four centuries later. as the Catholic Encyclopedia online, cited here earlier, describes. Epiphany (called Theophany in Orthodoxy), the Feast commemorating Jesus' baptism and the declaration by the Father in a heavenly voice that He was the Son in whom He was well pleased, and the coinciding blessing of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, was celebrated considerably earlier. Epiphany/Theophany also commemorates every testimony to the divinity of Jesus, including the blessing of the infant in Mary's arms by Simeon who is described in Luke's Gospel as waiting for Israel's consolation, and confesses Him as the Messiah in these familiar words: "For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

The January 6 feast also commemorates the testimony of the Magi who came from afar to worship Him because a star had revealed to them that a new divinely appointed King of Israel had been born. Partly because the visit of the Magi was celebrated at this date, January 6, Christmas was reckoned back 12 days to account for the fact that the Wise Men came to him in a home in Bethlehem rather than in the stable in which He was born, suggesting a passage of that much time from when they began their journey at his birth until they reached Him.

I remember when I was still working in Nanty Glo taking offense to an item in the paper calling Christmas a feast, as we Protestants didn't think of it that way and it seemed to be an effort to force us into someone else's way of thinking. Without a church calendar, there are no feasts, nor general fasts observed by the whole church, though ironically almost all Protestants do somewhat faithfully follow the Catholic Church's designation of Easter every year, the feast of feasts, and the generally kept incarnation feast on December 25. Orthodox and Catholics all celebrate Christmas on December 25, but Orthodox have a different way of calculating the date of Pascha (the Greek word for Passover; Easter) so that most years it is not exactly on the same date as Roman Catholic and Protestant Easter.

Some Orthodox, including the Ukranians who have the Orthodox church in Nanty Glo, still use the Julian Calendar for dating their church feasts, rather than the Gregorian one (1581), so "their" December 25 falls on "our" January 7. The Julian calendar was the one that "everyone" from the Mediterranean to Europe and America followed until what we Americans consider Colonial times, when the British finally accepted the Pope's "new" calendar. Many conservative Protestants in America continued to hold to the "old" one for decades and even generations afterward because they didn't want to accede to anything from a Pope; the Ukranian Orthodox and the Russian Orthodox in Russia (but not, generally, in North America) still reject it for the same reason.

It is generally understood in our culture that the Jewish religion closely follows an annual cycle of feasts, as we're all aware of Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hannukah (a minor feast that gets major attention because of its closeness to Christmas), and to a lesser extent Pentecost ("the fiftieth day from 'the next day after the sabbath' of the Passover") and Succoth (the feast of tabernacles). In its first several generations, Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism. The New Testament, even after the Ascension of Christ, mentions the disciples keeping Jewish worship (praying "the hours") and feasts (1 Corinthians 16:8). It was at just such a feast in Jerusalem, Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit filled the first Christians in a general way, so even Protestants consider Pentecost a major event in Christian life and at least nominally are aware of it every year about 50 days after Easter.

It's ironic that the Nativity was not a feast of the church from the beginning, especially because few events in the life of Christ have more detailed attention in the Gospels. Some believe that because the Roman pagan gods' birthdays were celebrated, the early Christians were reluctant to make a feast for Jesus' birthday. But when some of them began doing it, the idea spread from one end of the church to the other very rapidly, a seal of its divine approval. (The Catholic Encyclopedia stipulates that it was not originated from the Vatican and spread down from Rome.) The writer of our letter calling for not keeping Christmas because it's not Christian or biblical, objects to the fact that Romans gave presents, feasted, and made merry on their feasts. But the Jews including Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, always feasted on their special days, but also (like the early Christians and in many parts of the church even until today) as the end of a fast. Giving presents is something one does to honor anyone being celebrated on a birthday or other occasion (like marriage, graduation), and certainly the gifts of the wise men were examples to the church of giving gifts to hnor our King, from the beginning.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy 

First article in this series | Second | Third

A complete index of Jon Kennedy's Jonals for 2001 - 2004

Christmas chuckles

I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.

—Shirley Temple  

Advent thought for today

The magi, as you know, were wise men - wonderfuly wise men who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents.

O. Henry  

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