A brief explanation to clarify our Christmas Celebration this year.
It is thought that the early Christians did not widely celebrate the birth of Jesus. This is most likely true, since the primary focus was on His life, crucifixion, and particularly His resurrection. There certainly were some early Christian celebrations. Early writings, including a “feast calendar” written in 243AD, indicate that there were some celebrations in the third century and perhaps even in the second century. Christmas celebrations did not gain widespread prominence, however, until the Middle Ages or starting from around 400AD.
Christmas day, December 25, is not necessarily the actual date of Christ’s birth. The true date is not known because we lack enough information to pinpoint it precisely. Other dates besides December 25 were actually used for this feast.
December 25 finally was settled on by the church for reasons that are not absolutely clear, though there are some logical reasons for choosing that date. There were pagan celebrations on and about December 25th, celebrating the solstice, or the return of the solar light. Christians may have simply chosen to celebrate the advent of the “Light of the World” at such an appropriate time of year.
Some historians and scholars studying the history of Christianity have proposed that it is precisely because December 25 is so close to the pagan solstice celebration, that the church chose this date, in order to placate the (then) numerous pagans and not to initiate violent protests or uprisings that might have been caused had they been stripped of all their sacred days immediately following the acceptance of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. This was probably in the hope that gradually paganism would die out or that pagans would assimilate into Christianity for fear of persecution and/or lack of freedom.
The one thing we do know is that the story of the birth of our Savior was shared, written down, and continues to be read in homes and churches this time of year. It is very likely the first Christmas celebrations were around the dinner table in the homes of the earliest Christians – some were home churches others were simply Christian families sharing the Good News together. What they were sharing in was an oral tradition that has been lost in our American culture today.
This year because Christmas lands on a Sunday, we are going to do things a little differently. At 5pm on Christmas Eve we will have a Family Christmas Celebration, which will tell the story of the first Christmas. We will sing the carols, read the Christmas story from scripture, listen to the choirs, and celebrate the birth of our Savior as a community. The service will be a little longer than has been tradition. We are excited about this Celebration and everyone who will participate.
Then on Sunday (Christmas Day) we will not have a formal service at the church. What we are encouraging our families to do this year is return to the practice of the earliest Christians. On Christmas morning gather your family (those gathered in your home or wherever you are) and read aloud the Good News of Jesus birth from Luke 2 – continue the oral tradition of the earliest Christians.
Then take some time to ponder what God has done in your family’s life this year. Maybe have a time of sharing. Let Christmas morning be more about the story than about the presents. You may want to sing together or have a birthday coffee cake. Whatever you do, make sharing the story of Christ’s birth a part of your family again this year. If it wasn’t for the earliest Christians sharing the story in their homes, we wouldn’t even be celebrating this day.
We look forward to hearing how returning to the oral tradition in your family has made a difference this Christmas. (If you or your family are in need of a Bible, please see Pastor Bob.) We also look forward to worshiping together as a community on Christmas Eve at our Family Christmas Celebration.
Pastor Bob and the SFC Elders