The Christmas tradition and the Christian mission – Part 1

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I was 8 years old when we got our first Christmas tree and decorated it with lights. Did my family do that for the many other Christmas we celebrated when I was a kid? I am sure we did, but I don’t recall the other times as clearly as I recall the first time. The excitement and joy and happiness I felt that first time was never repeated. I would wake up at night when all the lights were off just to look at that Christmas tree with lights – it was glorious!

We say, Jesus is the reason for the season, but my joy and excitement at the Christmas tree and its lights, had nothing to do with Jesus. Think about it this way – say you were walking down the street on a normal day, and you suddenly come upon a party with drinks and food and lights and fun, it is likely that you would get excited and want to join in. We all enjoy colourful lively parties and festivities, and Christmas is one of the biggest party of the year.

We sing the hymn, “The first Noel, the Angels did say, Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay, In fields where they lay keeping their sheep, On a cold winter’s night that was so deep…”, and we paint pictures of baby Jesus born while it was snowing outside. We sing of a white snowy Christmas, its so much fun, and so different from what is in our Bible.

Luke 2:1-11 (NIV) (shortened) says: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken… And everyone went to their own town to register… Joseph also went… to Bethlehem… to register with Mary… and was expecting a child… and she gave birth to… a son… there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared… said to them, “Do not be afraid… Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Jesus was born during a census, when Israel was being counted and everyone had to return to their village. This type of census was not done during the cold winter months; it was done when places were warmer. Secondly, shepherds don’t sleep in the fields watching their sheep in cold winter, they only do this when places are warmer. Bible scholars have shown that Jesus was born around end of September or start of October, during the feast of Tabernacles, when it is warm in Israel, not late December when places are cold.

I could be born in October, but decide to celebrate my 16th or 21st or 50th or 70th birthday in December, because I want to make it a big party on a date when all my guests can make it. What is the reason the Christian Church decided to celebtate the birth of Jesus not during the actual season of his birth, but in a different season? This question will be answered next week. In the meantime, my kids are all excited to put up our Christmas tree.

Lord, help us understand the difference between the traditions and the mission of the Church, Amen!

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