Merry Christmas. It is that time of year when we gather to celebrate sacred holidays. My Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah and other faiths celebrate other rituals. But I celebrate Christmas because I happen to be Christian.
It has nothing to do with Santa Claus, reindeer, or stockings. It has to do with the single solitary event of the birth of a baby in Bethlehem who was born to Mary, a virgin, and her husband, Joseph, who accepted the message delivered in a dream by an angel telling him that his intended was pregnant by the Holy Spirit.
That had to be one hard pill to swallow. Joseph was smitten with Mary, a 14-year-old girl, and she was his intended bride. She came up pregnant and Joseph knew he hadn’t been with her in a marital way.
He listened to the angel and followed what the angel told him that God wanted him to do. He married Mary and then for tax and census reasons had to travel to Bethlehem to satisfy the law from Rome. They found the place crowded and there were no rooms available. Mary and Joseph were invited into a private home which had a manger, as did most homes. If you know people of the Jewish faith and culture you know darn well that no Jewish lady or family would have a pregnant woman sleeping in a barn-like structure.
A manger was a part of a house that would have provided the couple with safe and comfortable accommodations. The baby was born and much later the Magi arrived with the three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Myrrh is a balm and was quite useful and expensive. In the arid weather of the Middle East a balm would have been very important. The gifts had great value but it was more important that the baby was honored as a king.
There is a great deal of discussion about just when Jesus was born. One thing for sure is it wasn’t in winter, so December is out. The shepherds were watching their flocks by night so most likely Jesus was born in the spring. The date is lost to history, but it doesn’t matter at all.
What matters is that we stop and honor the birth of a baby, born of a virgin, who was the Son of God. No other human being that has ever lived has had such an impact on the world stage or the history of the world. Calendars have been set around his birth. The initials B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (anno domine after death) are how historic times are measured.
Kings and queens have come and gone, and mighty armies and navies have been brought together, and yet those forces have been forgotten over time. The one name people all over the world know is that of Jesus.
This isn’t the greatest holiday of the Christian faith. That day is Easter. That is the day Jesus rose from the dead and that is the event that gives hope to billions of people. The tomb was empty. Without Easter there would be no reason at all to celebrate Christmas. Without Christmas there could never have been an Easter.
On my Christmas tree in our home there is an Easter egg ornament at the top of the tree to remind one and all that visit about the tie that binds the two holidays together. We have a beautiful manger scene on display and we have an Advent wreath in the dining room to burn the candles as is our custom in our faith. Advent is the season of preparation for the coming of Christmas.
The twelve days of Christmas start on Christmas Eve and go until Jan 5. Jan. 6 is the Night of the Epiphany which tradition holds was when the Wise Men saw the baby in the manger. I believe they took two years to get there as it was a long trip.
The traditions and the stories have been mangled and are misunderstood. The secular songs celebrate getting snow, or two front teeth, the songs celebrate bells, horse rides and sleigh rides and a jolly old elf that lives at the North Pole and little of it has anything to do with the historic event that is celebrated on Dec. 25.
Millions will attend services and millions will gather with family and friends to exchange gifts and to eat together as part of their family traditions. My family will be doing exactly that. Great nephew Liam will enjoy ripping, shredding, and tearing at the wrapping of his numerous gifts, and the rest of us will rip, shred and tear in a slightly more mature manner, but the gift exchange will be a focal point of the morning. Dinner at 6 p.m., sitting at the same dining room table I’ve sat at my entire life and then dessert and a sip of port, cognac or coffee.
But throughout the day we will be remembering that it isn’t about Santa and snow and reindeer but about one single solitary life that was without question the greatest Christmas gift ever given.
Merry Christmas to all.