Written by Carol Beaver, Church Advocate, Legacy Coalition
Christmas is coming! Joy to the World! O, Come All Ye Faithful! Carol of the Bells! O Little Town of Bethlehem!
And, yes, the airwaves are filled with these and with Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Jingle Bells. Many in our land and all over the world are singing along, even if they don’t believe.
The history of Christmas and its celebration is complicated. Many of us have heard the “story” since we were tiny.
Everyone knew about Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, the shepherd, the Wisemen, and the baby Jesus. The angel chorus challenged imaginations.
No room was available in the inn, so the baby was born in a stable. A little snow fell in the air of our imaginations because it was December.
What We’ve Learned
Time has shown us that some of the details were not quite right. It was probably not December, but in the spring when sheep were out in the fields.
The inns of the day were not like motels of modern times, and it might have been more like a Bethlehem VRBO loaned them in a pinch. Archeologists and historians realize that animals often slept inside with the people.
One possibility is that the Holy Family found shelter in a stone home with two rooms, one for the animals and one for the rest of the household. A straw-lined cut-out in the floor of the animals’ room may have been the manger.
The arrival of the Wise Men was not that night, but weeks or almost two years later. The Bible does not give all the details, and the whole trip to Egypt is but a paragraph. The Wisemen brought three gifts, but we don’t know if it was just three men or a larger caravan.
While there are things we do not know for sure, we do know that God so loved us that He sent His Son – Emmanuel – God with us. The gift of God’s presence then and even now in our lives through Jesus.
The History of This Celebration
The Bible does not give specific commands about celebrating Jesus’ birth or death, though Jesus told the disciple to remember the Last Supper.
However, after Jesus’ death, when people more fully understood His purpose, they wanted to honor Him. Eventually, holidays like Christ’s Mass, Good Friday, and Easter emerged across many Christian cultures.
Resurrection Sunday (Easter) emerged first, being a more clearly defined day by the calendar and coinciding with Passover.
Christmas was given a specific date, December 25, in part to counteract the evil of the Roman Saturnalias.
As Christianity spread into various ethnic groups, the new Christians adapted old practices and imbued them into their version of celebrating Jesus’ birth.
People made a beautiful celebration combining long-standing traditions with their faith in Jesus.
How We Celebrate Today
In our American culture, Christmas is both a religious and secular holiday. Finding the boundaries is a challenge at times.
Stores play songs about Peace on Earth, but our society is anything but peaceful.
It is a time of luxury and poverty, with the homeless begging on the corner by the store where a man hauls out a 10-foot artificial Christmas tree to the sound of the Salvation Army bell-ringer.
Churches decorate their sanctuaries according to specific tenets of their faith and traditions that have passed through generations. The four Sundays before Christmas comprise Advent.
Once reserved for “mainline” churches, the beauty of thinking about Christmas from a Godly perspective for the days and weeks before Christmas has invigorated other churches to incorporate Advent into their worship and devotion.
One specific child-friendly activity is the Jesse Tree. The activities trace Jesus’ family tree, a fascinating study that would make a meaningful family exploration during Advent.
If your grandchildren are far away, send it to them and communicate back and forth regularly.
We, as Christian grandparents, can provide some guidance or modeling to enhance the Christmas experience for our families.
In many families, the gift exchange has developed into a big part of the traditional Christmas celebration. As families grow in number and age, gift-giving becomes more complicated and expensive.
It may be necessary to gather or get in a chatroom to discuss changes that might impact tradition.
Death and divorce have a way of creeping into our world these days, and it further complicates the social aspects of family celebrations at Christmas.
Our family has learned a lot about adjusting, accommodating, and getting over ourselves.
Long ago, I realized that after Christmas dinner, I could put my little daughter in the care of a flight attendant who would safely put her into her daddy’s hands halfway across the country. She would return safely in a few days, and life would go on.
We later found ways to become a “family” again by God’s grace. One of the best Christmas presents I (and I think we) ever got was when the eldest grandchild surprisingly said that she had something to say:
“I am just so glad that my Mimi and my Grandma and Grandpa can be friends and get along. I love you all.”
Lord, may we somehow get beyond ourselves and love all. May we be an example of “God with us.”