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Good Morning Nanty Glo!

Christmas Eve - Merry Christmas  

Friday, December 24 2004

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

Christmas questions

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

The letter published here last week suggesting that Christmas should not be celebrated raised some still-unanswered questions:

The (Gospel) account indicates (the wise men) 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.”

Again, not only does no one "require" that anyone believe the shepherds and wise men arrived together at the stable the night of the birth of Jesus, for centuries Spanish Catholics have celebrated the arrival of the wise men as 12 days later than the nativity. Even that is, they would admit, largely arbitrary, just a preferred way of interpreting the accounts of the visit of the Magi and the visit of the shepherds. The churches allow rank-and-file Christians much latitude in applying their reasonable understandings of the Gospel accounts and teachings.

As for Herod ordering the murder of all babies two and younger, I think this is generally interpreted as his way of taking "no chances" that the new-born king would be missed, or that if the mother of the alleged king were to try to pass Him off as older than the infancy cutoff, it would be hard to do that with a two-year range for the mandated infanticide.

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 wise men brought gifts because they were wise and therefore knew that was "proper" for the greeting of a new king, and also because they were wealthy and probably knew what Solomon said in Proverbs: "a man's gift precedes him," loosely translated. The shepherds came because the angelic host asked them to. Being poor, they didn't bring gifts (the Little Drummer Boy, who in the Christmas song complains of having no gift to bring, isn't part of the church's sacred tradition, just a story). A good story, but fiction, not Gospel.

Being wise, the wise men knew better than to follow the "guidance" of the evil Herod, to return to him and give him an account of the Babe so he too could go and "worship him." And though they had no known angels to guide them, the context of the account strongly suggests that the star that guided the wise men was a divine revelation to them. Also, they were given divine revelation by way of a dream about their departure, to avoid going back to see Herod after finding the Holy Child.

I think we've already covered the fact that there's no claim in church teaching that December 25 is based on historical proof. If it was the church's arbitrary decision to put the feast there, it had good support (being before the already calendared Epiphany on January 6 made sense; there was no other major Christian feast in that part of the Roman year).

We've already also shown that Christmas wasn't celebrated in the first and second generations of the church, the time of "young Timothy." The Lord said the Spirit would lead the church into all truth, but doesn't say that would happen all at once. There were matters like getting over their Jewish roots, for one thing, and getting out from under the constant persecution of the Roman Empire in its first three centuries. The Lord also promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church and that it would be the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15).

The letter continues:

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).

I'm not sure the point here, but suspect it is that if He wasn't born on December 25 but we say that is His birthday, we're lying. But the Jewish Passover was a moveable feast throughout post-Exodus history. If its date varies from year to year based not on the calendar but the phases of the moon, it establishes a precedent for working out arbitrary rules for the church's feasts. The apostates who plotted to destroy Jesus had evil motives and plans, so obviously they would twist the teachings they were sworn to uphold and would be guilty of invalidating the sacred tradition. But there is no evidence that tradition itself is wrong; Jesus blessed extra-biblical Jewish traditions like the one that held that an angelic visit to the pool of Bethesda once a year had healing power (John 5).

I would agree in principal that the Apostle Paul warns Christians to stay away from worldly influences, but on the other hand he, and the Lord Himself, encourage all Christians to reach and teach the world in the mind of Christ through His love, through preaching Him, and setting godly example modeled after His teaching and way of living. That, I submit, is the triumph of the church that we call Christmas with all it has done to give the world hope, and to share the message and the love of the Babe it worships and remembers on this holy night.

We'll continue this as long as it takes. And we will come back to Dickens and Christmas before we conclude.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy 

First article in this series | Second | Third | Fourth

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

Christmas chuckles

Jennifer Bofinger, media spokeswoman for the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said despite the shabby treatment of deer in general, her organization has not received any complaints about how Santa Claus treats his reindeer.

— Los Angeles Times  

Advent thought for today

Best of all, Christmas means a spirit of love, a time when the love of God and the love of our fellow men should prevail over all hatred and bitterness, a time when our thoughts and deeds and the spirit of our lives manifest the presence of God.

George F. McDougall  

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