a journey in His service

The meaning of Christmas

Crop of original painting "Anbetung der H...

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What is the meaning of Christmas?  Is it the “magic” brought by a legendary figure known as Santa Claus or is it still recognized as a time to celebrate the birth of a Savior?  With the commercialization of the season some people would argue it is neither.  The word Christmas comes from Old English Cristes mæsse.  The literal translation is Christ’s (referencing Jesus Christ, the Christian Savior) Mass (a feast or celebration).  Christ’s Mass is a term recorded as early as 1038 a.d.  Given the origin of the name, it is my feeling that we should celebrate the holiday as a day to remember the birth of Jesus.

In the Bible you find two accounts of the birth of Jesus.  One is found in Matthew, the other in Luke.  According to the biblical accounts Jesus was born to a young virgin named Mary.  Mary had gone with her betrothed Joseph to the town of Bethlehem to register for a census.  When they arrived they found there were many other people doing the same thing and there was no room at the inn.  We are told that Mary gave birth to our King as was foretold in the Old Testament prophecies.  She laid him a manger, which suggests that they were staying in a stable among live stock.

Popular iconic images show an adoring mother leaning over a babe wrapped in swaddling cloth laying in a wooden box and surrounded by animals.  In reality the stable was probably a cave and the manger was likely made of stone and filled with straw.  Shepherds in the surrounding fields were awakened by an angel and told of the birth.  They would have been the first to see the child who would later become the ultimate sacrifice.

Sometime later Magi from the East came to worship the child who was born King of the Jews.  These men are often referred to as the three kings or three wise men.  The Bible never actually says they were kings or how many there were.  I will look at the Magi and their gifts in another post.

For centuries, Christians have been celebrating Christmas as an event to honor the birth of Jesus Christ.  John Chrysostom preached a sermon in Antioch c. 386 which established the date of Christmas as December 25.  Although the Bible does not give us a specific date for His birth, Christian writers accepted that Christmas was the actual date on which Jesus was born.  There have been songs, poems and art created through the centuries which pay homage to a mighty King from humble beginnings.

I can remember as a child being told that we should celebrate Christ’s birth everyday not just on Christmas.  I agree with that statement but would like to amend it slightly by saying that anytime I am given free berth to talk about my King I will take it.  I believe that Christ should be the central focus of this holiday.  It’s not about a wish list.  It’s not about where you are.  It is about a gift greater than you or I could ever have thought of.  For me it is about the Son of God.

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