The Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, says, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”
If you are a Christian, you understand that Christmas is all about Jesus and His birth. There’s a great deal of history that goes along with the holiday. Most scholars say that the date of December 25th was first celebrated around the middle of the 4th century. Most will agree that Jesus was probably not born on December 25th and was probably not born in December at all, but that is the day that the Church, around 350AD, agreed to celebrate and remember His birth. For more than 300 years, the early church did not celebrate Christmas. The reason for this, many scholars say, is that it was considered to be a custom of pagans to celebrate any birthday or anniversary of an event. So in an effort to avoid what the pagans were doing, the early Christians did not celebrate Jesus’ birth. Has the celebration of Jesus’ birth ever been broken since then? Actually, yes. During the rule of Oliver Cromwell, in Britain, the celebration of Christmas was banned from 1649-1658. No Christmas celebration was allowed except for special church services on Christmas Eve.
With all of these fascinating historical details, we learn much about the early church and ourselves as followers of Christ. In the end, the back-and-forth nature of Christmas celebrations reminds me that the most important thing about the birth of Christ isn’t the day or season in which we celebrate it. There’s a much deeper principle at work.
An unforgettable celebration of Christmas happened one year in February when I visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and it was one of the few moments in my life I will forever remember. Our guide led us down into the cave-like space under the church to see the place that many believe was the exact spot where Jesus was born. Our group was silent as we stood there. Then, almost in unison, we broke out singing, “O Come, All Ye Faithful”. I remember tears were flowing in my eyes as we reached that chorus, “O come let us adore Him!” No, it wasn’t December 25th and it wasn’t that we were worshipping the place that it was believed that Jesus was born. We experienced the reality of His presence with us that day.
That experience in Bethlehem reminds me that we need our lives to radiate the reality of the presence of the King. The realness of the light and presence of Christ in our lives is what sets us apart, not just in December, but all the year through. This Christmas, even though our world seems filled with daily acts of terrorism, hatred, violence, racism and fear, we must shine the light and tell the world that Jesus was born to bring peace, love and forgiveness to the lost and broken world! It’s all about Him.