There’s no historical record of the date of Jesus’ birth. There has been speculation—some say it was in the spring, others say it was in the fall—but no one really knows for sure what day He was born. There’s no historical evidence that He was born on December 25th. We’re also pretty sure there wasn’t a Christmas tree, turkey, or carolers in attendance. So why do we celebrate His birthday on December 25th? And what’s the deal with the tree, the carolers, and all the rest of our modern traditions?
People really only began celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25th around 350 AD. It then took hundreds of years before Christmas was widely accepted by Christians as a celebration of Jesus’ birth, mainly because many of our modern Christmas traditions have their roots in ancient pagan history. December 25th was originally the celebration of the birth of the son of Isis, an Egyptian goddess. Partying, feasting, and the giving of gifts were all part of this celebration. The Romans celebrated the annual winter solstice with eating, drinking, and merrymaking. From Rome also comes the tradition of carolers—or “mummers,” as they were called. The mummers would dress up in costume and would go singing from house to house, entertaining their neighbors. The Christmas tree comes from common tradition throughout Europe, as evergreen trees were revered as symbols of good luck. The druids used evergreens as a religious symbol and actually worshiped trees themselves.
As people all across the Roman Empire were converted, many of their traditions got incorporated into the Christmas holiday.
So why am I telling you all this? People have taken these points and used them to cast Christmas in a negative light. Unbelievers have often used these facts to knock Christianity, saying it’s just a “copycat” religion. On the other side of the spectrum, some Christians have shunned Christmas altogether because of the pagan background of various Christmas traditions. Both of these reactions are sad, I think.
Jesus understands the wide variety of cultures and backgrounds, and instead of requiring people to drop everything that they know and enjoy, He becomes a part of our world. Jesus meets you where you are. He doesn’t create a huge learning curve in order to reach Him. He doesn’t require you to change before He accepts you. He doesn’t wait until you’ve achieved a certain level of perfection before He receives you. Jesus says that He’ll accept whoever comes to Him, and no matter who you are, He will not reject you. If you come to Him, He’ll accept you with open arms.
As I read about the life of Jesus, it was interesting to see how He adapted to meet the needs of each person He came in contact with. When He was with Nicodemus—an intellectual, high-ranking member of the temple clergy—Jesus spoke to him in ways that piqued his interest and challenged his intellect.1 When Jesus was with the children, He took them in His arms and talked with them.2 When He was with the publicans and sinners, He went into their homes and ate and drank and laughed with them.3 A couple of times after teaching big crowds, He knew their most important concern was their hunger—so He fed them.4
Whether with a crowd or one on one, Jesus did whatever was necessary to reach each person and show them that He loved them.
This is the way that Jesus lived and died, and the whole reason He came to earth. He became like us. He took on a human body and got down and messy with us. He dealt with daily life, hunger, and fatigue. He may have felt discouraged at times. But He went through our human experience so that He could feel what we feel and understand the things that are important to us.
He can take the things that you know and love—the things that are important to you, like your Christmas traditions—and give them even greater meaning.
So as you enjoy your Christmas celebrations, as you open gifts, sing carols, and eat good food, let those things remind you of Jesus’ deep love for you. Take each of those traditions that you enjoy and let them point you back to the great gift Jesus gave each of us by coming to earth, living, and dying for us.—Marie Story5
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”—Matthew 1:20–216
This is the time of year when much of the world comes to a standstill in recognition of the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s also a time when peace and goodwill among men are rather glibly talked about. Though wonderful sidebars to the birth of Christ, they are not the reason why Christians celebrate Christmas.
To Joseph, the angel of the Lord said, “She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”7 And to the shepherds, the angel of the Lord said, “Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you.”8 Through Adam, we were all born spiritually dead and incapable of behaving as we were designed to behave. Paul writes in Romans 7:23, “I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.” This ‘law of sin’ works with a bias towards that which is wrong, and the acts of sin we commit are symptomatic of our corrupt nature.
We live in a world dominated by corruption, greed and prejudice, so it’s easy to blame things on the state of the world, but the problem is that the world is made up of people like you and me. Unless we understand that Jesus came into the world to save us from our sin, Christmas will not be much more than a sentimental occasion for celebration. To understand His birth, we need to leave Bethlehem behind and go about ten kilometres up the road to Jerusalem. It is there, at the cross of Jesus, that the penalty for our sin was paid, and it is the only means by which the life of God may be restored into human experience.
The greatest need of every human heart is to be saved. Christmas is the beginning of the story of our salvation; a baby born in Bethlehem, sent into this world by a loving God to become the pure and flawless lamb to die in our stead. Christians celebrate the birth of our Saviour because, as the angel of the Lord said to Joseph, “He will save His people from their sins,” and they know they are the sinners He came to save.—Charles Price
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