What Are We Celebrating?

It’s that time of year again!

Time for making cookies, shopping for gifts, decorating the Christmas tree and all our house inside and out. Time for family gatherings, parties at friends, watching Hallmark Christmas movies. The list goes on and on.

As I listen to people talk about the holiday, it almost seems at times as if it is more of a stressful time for some than a joyous celebration. People wonder if they will get the right gift for that special someone, if their decorations will look as nice as the neighbor’s next door, if they will have enough time for all they need to do to celebrate this holiday.

And I have to ask myself: what are we celebrating?

The Early Church did not celebrate Christmas. For them the important date was the day Jesus arose from the grave. Granted without His birth He could not have grown up and died for us. But for the Early believers, the important thing to celebrate was His resurrection. Two of the Gospels do not even mention the birth of Jesus but all four Gospels give great detail of the last days of His life as He was crucified, buried and rose again. The Aposle Paul shared that this was the heart of the good news.

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Doing some research into church history, I discovered that the first Christmas was celebrated December 25, 336. The Roman emperor Constantine decreed this celebration to take place throughout the Roman Empire and Pope Julus I selected the date of December 25. Bible scholars tell us there is nothing in the Bible or in Early Church history to know the date of the birth of Jesus. Many reason that it was more lately that his birth was in the spring. Would shepherds be out on the hills with their sheep in the middle of winter?

Many pagan societies observed this date as a celebration of the winter solstice. This was the shortest day of the year and would lead to the return of the sun. In ancient Germanic cultures, they would burn a Yule log, light bonfires, tell stories and drank ale. Ancient Romans had a seven-day celebration, Saturnalia, beginning December 17. They would have a sacrifice at the temple of Saturn followed by several days of a carnival atmosphere. oldest winter celebrations in the world.

It is believed by many scholars that the Pope chose December 25 to try to turn people away from the celebration of Saturnalia and begin to follow the Christian way of life.

Whatever the reason for the choice of December 25 it has come down to us as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

But again, I ask: what are we celebrating?

I recently visited a Christmas celebration at a local mall. I wondered what someone who had no knowledge of our customs and came to the celebration would think it was all about. There were all kinds of items with Santa Claus, the elves, the reindeer. But I saw nothing about the stable, the manger, Jesus.

Now – do I sound like Scrooge?

I certainly do not mean to. I love the decorations, the Christmas movies of the Elf on the Shelf and all that goes with our holiday in America. This week I will be busy putting up my tree and decorating my home all in red and gold, looking for that perfect gift for my husband.

But I wonder: What if you were told your friends were going to have a party to celebrate your birthday. You get excited and come to the party expecting greetings from everyone – and maybe some presents. You arrive early because you are so happy your friends want to celebrate this day with you. When you arrive, no one acknowledges your presence. No one offers you a seat at the table. There are no signs saying, “Happy birthday.” Instead, another person is seated at the head of the table. Everyone is talking to him, wanting to have their picture taken with him, toasting him. You are totally ignored.

You might go home wondering: what were they celebrating?

I hope you will enjoy this month and all the food, decorations, shopping, family gathering, parties. But I hope you will truly remember who and what we are celebrating.

I hope you will take time to listen to this song – and ask yourself: what am I celebrating?

I

The “Real” Story of the First Christmas

The beauty of that night was not a calm, serene setting with radiant beams emitting from or around the baby. The beauty of that night was how clearly it showed the love of God – sending His son not to the king’s palace or the rich man’s house, but to a dirty, cold, dark stable.

Grandma's Ramblings

thCADPOVFO

Silent Night, Holy Night

What a beautiful picture we have of that first Christmas!  Mary and Joseph, dressed in plain, but neat, clothes.  The baby is wrapped in a clean blanket and the shepherds and Wise Men all stand or sit on the clean straw.  And one of our most beloved Christmas carols make it all sound so peaceful and clean.

Silent Night, Holy Night, All is calm, all is bright

But was it a silent night?  Was all calm and bright?

According to the Gospel of Luke, Mary and Joseph had just made a long trip from their home town of Nazareth to Bethlehem.  This would not be considered a “long” trip today.  It is approximately 100 miles and MapQuest says it can be made in less than two hours.  However, at the time of Jesus’ birth, travel would have been on foot on rough roads with no Holiday Inn or…

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The “Real” Story of the First Christmas

thCADPOVFO

Silent Night, Holy Night

What a beautiful picture we have of that first Christmas!  Mary and Joseph, dressed in plain, but neat, clothes.  The baby is wrapped in a clean blanket and the shepherds and Wise Men all stand or sit on the clean straw.  And one of our most beloved Christmas carols make it all sound so peaceful and clean.

Silent Night, Holy Night, All is calm, all is bright

But was it a silent night?  Was all calm and bright?

According to the Gospel of Luke, Mary and Joseph had just made a long trip from their home town of Nazareth to Bethlehem.  This would not be considered a “long” trip today.  It is approximately 100 miles and MapQuest says it can be made in less than two hours.  However, at the time of Jesus’ birth, travel would have been on foot on rough roads with no Holiday Inn or McDonald’s along the way.  Mary may have had the luxury of riding on a donkey as our pictures always show, but even so with Joseph walking by her side, the trip would have been long and hard.  I can’t imagine making such a trip while eight or nine months pregnant.

Upon arrival in Bethlehem, Luke tells us there were no rooms available at the inn.  The innkeeper is often portrayed as an unsympathetic man who refused a place for Mary and Joseph.  However, if the town was crowded with visitors for the census and there were no rooms available, he may have acted out of compassion by providing a place for them in the stable nearby.  At least there they would have a roof over their heads and some protection from the night.

While we don’t know how old Mary was, most scholars believe she was probably a teenager.  So – here is a young girl, found pregnant before she was married at a time when that brought great shame (and could have brought death by stoning), far from home getting ready to give birth in a stable.  I’m not sure how calm she must have felt or how silent the night was as she gave birth to her son.

I imagine Joseph – worrying about his young wife giving birth without benefit of the comforts of home, wondering how he was going to be able to raise the Son of God.

It appears that shortly after giving birth, Mary laid Jesus in the manger.  While trying to rest, Joseph and Mary had visitors.  Shepherds.

These wthCAFPG1MEere men who were on the bottom of the Palestinian social ladder. They would be placed in the same class as tax collectors and dung sweepers.  In spite of their fantastic story of angels appearing to them with the wonderful announcement of the Messiah’s birth, only one of the Gospel writers – Luke – bother to tell us about them.

Judaism’s written record of the oral law, the Mishnah, reflects this prejudice, referring to shepherds in belittling terms. One passage describes them as “incompetent”; another says no one should ever feel obligated to rescue a shepherd who has fallen into a pit.

Being out in the field with the sheep for a long period of time, I can only imagine that their clothes may have been worn and/or dirty and they were probably in need of a good bath.  Not necessarily a beautiful, neat scene.

They related their story to Mary and Joseph of the angels’ appearance and the wonderful message of peace the angels had shared.  While many pictures of the shepherds visit to the manger show a bright light shining on Mary and the baby and the carol says “Radiant beams from Thy holy face,” Luke’s narrative does not give any hint of that.  Rather, the shepherds were told they would recognize the baby by:

And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.

Certainly they would not have needed that sign if there was a radiant light streaming around the manger when they arrived in Bethlehem.

By writing this I am not trying to detract from the beauty of that first Christmas.  Rather, I hope that we see the birth of Jesus Christ for what it was.  Not a beautiful, serene scene where everything was calm and bright.  Our Savior did not come to a world of comfort and ease.   The writer of the letter to the Philippians said:

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.   Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.

 The beauty of that night was not a calm, serene setting with radiant beams emitting from or around the baby.  The beauty of that night was how clearly it showed the love of God – sending His son not to the king’s palace or the rich man’s house, but to a dirty, cold, dark stable.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son!

That’s the “real” story of Christmas!