(November 29, 2020) Dr Jim McClure, straight shooting theologian, reflects on the full significance of next month’s spiritual highlight…
Christmas is quickly approaching. Having grown up in in Ireland and then ministering in England, I was used to having Christmas as a mid-winter celebration and, I must admit, I miss that kind of Christmas atmosphere! But wherever we live, as Christians the most important thing we associate with Christmas is the birth of Jesus! Images readily spring to mind…
- The newborn baby lying in a stable manger.
- Mary and Joseph and the shepherds gazing in awe at the newborn child.
- The visit of the wise men to the infant Jesus (although their timing was actually off by a couple of years)
- Christmas carols playing a part in reinforcing this scenario.
The surprising thing is that in the early church Christmas was not celebrated as a festival. I don’t mean that the first Christians didn’t believe that Jesus, God’s Son, was born in a stable in Bethlehem. Of course, they did. But in the first couple of centuries Christmas, as a festival, did not exist. In the early writings of Christians, there are no references to celebrating of Jesus’ birth while there are many references to celebrating his atoning death and glorious resurrection. For example, about 20 years after the ascension of Jesus, Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, ‘Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival’ (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
Why then was the birth of Jesus not also celebrated as a festival? I’m sure that part of the reason was that no one was really sure of the exact date on which Jesus was born although after a few centuries the church, with some rather strange reasoning, settled on two possible dates – December 25 and January 6 – although both dates are probably wrong!
Eventually, almost 300 years after Jesus was born, people began actively to celebrate
his birth in mid-winter. (more…)