Thursday, December 31, 2009

Seventh Day of Christmas Greetings!

I think.

I mean, when is it really Christmas--the Christ Mass?

Sextus Julius Africanus, an early historian calculated in 221 A.D. that the Incarnation took place on March 25, Nine months later would be December 25, conveniently four days after the winter solstice—the shortest day of the year.

But there is some evidence, based on passages in Luke, that Jesus was born in late September or early October. Other people claim that He was at other times during the year.

The historical western Church has celebrated Jesus' birth on December 25 since 273 A.D., and many western churches still celebrate twelve days of Christmas with the Feast of Lights (coming of the Wise Men) on January 6. Eastern (orthodox) churches, however, used to celebrate Jesus birth and baptism on January 6 -- and, according to, a few eastern churches still do so. Most eastern churches celebrate His birth on December 25 and His baptism on January 6.

Many Christians rightly note that the Incarnation of Christ -- His conception -- should take precedence over His birth.

Our consumer culture today would have us believe that Christmas begins just after Labor Day, builds in intensity over a three month period, and ends rather abruptly at midnight on December 25.

As a result, we're sick of Christmas by the time it arrives and we dread its return the next year.

How sad.

No wonder, in the words of John W. Peterson, we have:

"No room, here in the hearts of mankind.
No room, no cheery welcome to find.
No room. Surely the world is blind.
No room."

Ah, well. For me, Christmas is December 25 through January 6 -- all twelve days. Advent ("coming") is the time of preparation that includes the four Sundays before Christmas.

For me, Christmas is about Jesus being born within, not just about His birth 2,000 some years ago, so my preparation time begins in the summer when I begin preparing for the Christmas program at our church. In the writing and in the rehearsing during the fall, something new of Jesus is born in me -- a new understanding of this mystery, a flash of insight into His Word -- and something new of Jesus is born into our church family -- people from first service getting to know people from second and third services, a fourteen-year-old discussing Scripture with a fifty-year-old and an eight-year-old leading us in prayer.

My prayer is that something new of Jesus is born in those who attend the programs, usually held the second or third Sonday in Advent.

This year, our home Nativity set went up on the 20th. And, after years of not putting up a tree, I impulsively put up a table-top one on the 24th.

Both will stay up until January 6. And as long as all the packages and cards are in the mail by the 6th, I count myself as being on time with deliveries -- more or less. ;-)

But who's to say Christmas can't be February 10 or May 3 or August 19? Something new of Jesus can -- should? -- be born in us as often as He and we are willing.

Happy Birthday, Jesus -- today and every day!


Anne said...

(Sent to my email and posted here, with permission, to keep the conversation together.)

Hi, Anne --

Irreverent comment: Maybe our stores starting the Christmas season at Labor Day is right on the birthdate money!!!! >: )

Otherwise, we have a lovely hymn in our church that you may have, and it perfectly fits the real "date" of Christmas. The second verse is particularly relevant:

Let every creature hail the morn
On which the Holy Child was born,
And know, through God's exceeding grace,
Release from things of time and place.
I listen, from no mortal tongue,
To hear the song the angels sung,
And wait within myself to know
The Christmas lilies bud and blow.

The outward symbols disappear
From him whose inward sight is clear,
And small must be the choice of days
To him who fills them all with praise.
Keep while you need it, brothers mine,
With honest zeal your Christmas sign,
But judge not him, who every morn
Feels in his heart the Lord Christ born.

I love this one for several reasons:

1. I like the words and what they say.
2. My dear husband, who was from an all-adult family before we had kids and tended to be a Grinch about Christmas decor in the stores so early, etc., etc. -- well, this hymn totally connects with his philosophy of Christmas!
3. I like that it references every creature. When our Sunday School kids read an updated version of the Christmas story during our Christmas hymn sing this year, the reader said before this, "Jesus was born in a stable. The animals rejoiced," or something like that.
4. There are cool tune motifs in the third to last and last lines of each verse -- "To he-EE-EAR the so-ON-ONG the aa-AAN-GELS sung" etc. The tune was what first got me as I tried to play it on the piano.. I have no sense of rhythm and absolutely can't count no matter how hard I try, so I interpreted those as triplets. Not right, but I loved singing it that way.

Happy new year!


Anne said...

I LOVE the hymn you shared! I'll have to track down the music -- thank you so much.

Not quite such an irreverent comment, actually. The article I linked suggests that Jesus' conception was at Hannukah (Feast of Lights) and His birth was at Sukkoth (Feast of Tabernacles).

I wrote a curriculum (for children) one year based on the holidays Jesus celebrated when He was a child. We celebrated each of the holidays and then, during subsequent sessions, talked about how Jesus fulfilled each one. There are so many things we have missed by ignoring our Jewish roots.

Maybe God just chuckles at our modern culture beginning to celebrate Christmas just after Labor Day.

As for the creatures' hailing the morn, one of my favorite songs talks about how "all creation stands on tiptoe just to see the sons of God come into their own." Based on Romans 8:19-22 -- so who are we to say they don't hail the morn?

Thanks for sharing and continuing the discussion. OK if I post this as a comment on my blog? Helps keep it all together.

Anne said...

Just tracked down the author -- it's from a longer poem, "The Mystic's Christmas," by John Greenleaf Whittier: