Do you know that the first hint in the Bible of what we call Christmas is in Genesis 3:15? A lot happened between Genesis 3:15 and Matthew 1:18, but we won’t go into all that today.
My questions are: How do you celebrate Christmas? Do you go over the river and through the woods to visit grandma? Do you read the Scriptures that talk about Jesus’ birth? Do you take a trip? Invite people to your house? Do you watch movies or football games? What’s your favorite Christmas meal?
I looked up historic Christmas celebrations. For about 300 years after Jesus’ resurrection, there were no observances of His birth – therefore, no festivities. The first one recorded was in Rome, on December 25, 336 A.D., but didn’t become a primary Christian observance until the 800s. Decorating trees started in Germany, but had nothing to do with Christmas.
In the fourth century, church officials decided to observe Jesus’ birth as a holiday; and for non-biblical reasons, Pope Julius chose December 25. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 A.D., and to England by the end of the sixth century. By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders thought that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but in doing so, they gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. Therefore, on Christmas, many people attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere.
Hmmmm … It seems like that still happens today.
Noting societal debauchery, prevalent poverty, and abusive child labor in Victorian England in the 1840s, Charles Dickens vowed to do something about it, and writing was what he did best. So, in 1843, he published his novel, A Christmas Carol. Although the book is more a work of sentiment than of Christianity, it captures something of the Christmas spirit.
Dickens wanted to insert joy and gladness into a life filled with drudgery, dreariness and death. While acknowledging the seriousness of life, he portrayed the Spirit of Christmas filled with miracles and laughter. He also reminded society of the importance of blessing others by caring for those around them. Dickens encouraged joy and human-kindness, and inspired a positive change in society.
How do Carol and I celebrate Christmas?
We read about the birth of Jesus in chapters 1-2 in Matthew and Luke. That sets the tone for the celebration. We often visit one of our kids, but this year we’ll visit our daughter’s in-laws, Robert and Phyllis Crawford, near Oklahoma City. And instead of buying gifts for our families who live far away, then pay more for mailing them, we’ll mail the allotted money and let them choose the gifts.
Have you heard of the song, Over the River, and Through the Woods, To Grandmother’s House, We Go? I grew up singing it at Christmas, but it was written as a Thanksgiving Poem by Lydia Maria Child in 1844, and referred to Grandfather’s house. I find it interesting that where Carol and I live, all five of our children and their families have to travel over rivers and through forests to reach us.
My favorite Christmas meal is not turkey. (Shhh…don’t tell Carol.) My favorite is ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams with marshmallows, and fruit salad with whipped cream. Two to three hours later, I want pumpkin or apple pie with vanilla ice cream! Oh, yes – and coffee.
I like to watch football. On this coming Christmas day, the Minnesota Vikings will play against the New Orleans Saints. But I won’t watch it. Not on Christmas Day. This is a time to spend with family, which includes church family, and helping others.
We usually watch It’s A Wonderful Life the week before Christmas. It helps us to realize – again – the intrinsic value of each and every life. I hope that every one of you reading this reflection understands that every person is important. If you are hurting emotionally or are happy, if you are sick or healthy, if you feel rejected or accepted, if you are poor or wealthy, please believe me: you are important! Whatever may be your status or position in life, reach out and help others. THAT, my friend, is one way of manifesting the spirit of Christmas…the Spirit of Christ.
I understand that the covid-19 pandemic is putting a crunch on worship services, family gatherings, and celebrations this year, but you can still give to others. Be creative and find a way.
But stop and think about what this celebration is really all about – Jesus Christ. He came as a human baby, but never relinquished His true identity – God.
That is spelled out in John 1:1-4. “In the beginning there was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made by him, and nothing was made without him. In him there was life, and that life was the light of all people.”
Then verse 14 says, “The Word became a human and lived among us. We saw his glory—the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father—and he was full of grace and truth.”
May the Lord bless you this Christmas season.