By Bishop Art Ferriol
The practices associated with the celebration of the birth of Christ dates back to thousands of years before His birth. It is believed originated in Babylon (now Iraq) in 2000 BC. The festival lasted for long periods of times wherein exchange of gifts were done and plays were performed. This was accompanied with procession and merry making. Back then, these practices worked the death of winter and heralded the New Year. In Europe, such belief was also in practice to work the seasonal changes and the growing of harvestman crops. On winters, they would burn bonfires in the hope reviving the dying sun. Also they decorated their houses with fires and other evergreen to show downment seeds and lifeless trees that all were not dead. But when the sun appears at the end of winter they rejoice in the success that would probably repeat the magic again. Thus, a custom is born.
In the North on the Baltic regions and in Scandinavia, there was a winter festival known as “Yule “which honored the god Odin and his son Thor. This is probably where our ‘Yuletide Season’ originated. They also lighted fires and sang songs of merriment in this celebration.
A very closely associated event was the week-long wild revelry and feasting in the Roman Empire called the Saturnalia. The coming of the winter solstice the time in the Northern Hemisphere when the sun is farthest south of the celestial equators. This is on December 2l or 22. This celebration was in honor of the sacred day of the ‘Dies Notalis Invicti Solis” (Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun). During the Saturnalia, Romans decked their homes with greenery, friends do exchange presents, army rested, criminals were spared from executions and slaves were good as their masters. It was a season of general rejoicing, with goodwill to all men.
No one knows exactly when Christ was born. But the Bible gives us clues as to the year of His birth.
1. Caesar Augustus was then the emperor of the vast Roman Empire. This was Gaius Octavius in the secular history, adopted son and successor of Julius Caesar. He reigned from 29 B.C. to 14 A.D. (Luke 2: 1).
2. Cyrenius was then the governor of Syria. History called him Quirinius, a Roman consul in 12 B.C.
3. Herod the Great, the son of Antipater, an Induemean, and Cypros, an Arabian woman. He was made governor of Galilee when he was just 25 years old and was made king of Judea at 37 B.C. He rebuilt the Jewish temple (John 2:20). He died in 4 B.C.
4. The shepherds are “keeping watch over their flocks by night” (Luke 2:8). Shepherds never kept flocks in the open during winter. It was the customs to send flock out after the Passover to stay until the first rain in October.
There are no less than 136 different opinions as to the years and month He was born. Christian sects have listed every month of the year but it can not prove exactly when He was born.
Against these two undeniable facts of history: its pagan and orgiastic origin and its unknown date; should we then celebrate Christmas? If we will not, then we will be guilty of ignoring/forgetting the greatest event in human history – the visitation of God (Acts 15.14; Luke 19:44). This of course will be a tragedy of the greatest proportion. He was born. God visited us (Acts 15:14). We should therefore, out of grateful hearts for His “unspeakable gift,” celebrate with humble, fervent yet joyful spirit, the date unknown not withstanding. We should therefore celebrate Christmas minus the wild revelry and orgiastic feast of the pagans celebrate the birth of the Son of God minus the commercialism that has dominated this sacred occasion. Let CHRIST be the focus, the star of Christmas. Let us therefore celebrate Christmas with:
On Christmas, the Father has given the greatest gift to man. His only begotten Son! To Christ Himself, His coming means emptying of His deity.
Theologians prefer to call it His “kenosis”. His taking off of the form of God and taking the form of man. To be God and willing to be imprisoned in the infirmities of human body is unfavorable sacrifice. Did not Joseph and Mary sacrifice the normal, quiet family life to bear the body of the Christ? Did not the wise men sacrifice two long years of trodding the dusty desert path in search of “Child born King of the Jews?” Indeed, there is no place for revelry and feasting in celebration of His birth. Indulgence in the lust of the eye and of the flesh or pride of life is alien to His birthday. If ever there was gladness and joy as the shepherd experienced, it was not gladness due to the indulgence of material things. Rather it was glorifying and praising God for all the things that they have heard and seen as it was told unto them (Luke 2:20).
2. SPREAD THE GOOD NEWS.
The angel said, “ I bring you good tidings of great joy.” The shepherds were honored to be the first to receive the angel’s announcement of His birth. After they have confirmed the glad tidings,
“…they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning the child.”- Luke 2:17
From then on the greatest work of God in this world is the proclamation of this blessed and wonderful Gospel. Before the Lord left His apostles. He said
“Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to men.”- Mark 16:15
The Good News is only good to those that hears it. To the ignorant of the Gospel it is never good. The things that give greatest pleasure to the heart of God is the proclamation of His love. How can we better celebrate His birth than to proclaim to all that, “a Savior has come” that the door to the Father is now open.
3. BE A WORSHIPER OF GOD.
Like the wise men who humbly worshiped Him when He was born that day. To be a true worshiper, means submission to the will of God and to serve Him. To know the Christ of Christmas is to worship Him. Offer to Him this Christmas your life; everything that you owe, everything that you have. Less than this, He will not accept it. But to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to Him will be the greatest gift that we can offer on His birthday.