Think about this eighteenth day of December, the day when the cornerstone of the Lord’s Temple was laid. Think carefully. I am giving you a promise now while the seed is still in the barn. You have not yet harvested your grain, and your grapevines, fig trees, pomegranates, and olive trees have not yet produced their crops. But from this day onward I will bless you. (Haggai 2:18-19)
Relate: I think the people who decide the scheduling over at The One Year Bible need to make a few minor adjustments. I really like being able to read through scripture in the format and fashion they have set it up and each day’s reading seems to be pretty balanced for length. It is just that today’s Old Testament reading should have happened two days ago. They got their days wrong.
Speaking of getting their days wrong, I often hear around this time of year that Christians shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because it is really the pagan holiday Saturnalia. Hogwash. Saturnalia was December 17. Even in the decadent late Roman Empire days, when they tended to stretch out their excuses for depravity, the holiday only lasted until December 23rd. The early church had absolutely nothing to do with Saturnalia.
That doesn’t mean Christmas wasn’t overlayed on top of a pagan Roman holiday. It’s just that ignorant people (and even some “legitimate” history websites, have the wrong holiday. Christmas was celebrated on Deis Natali Solis Invicti. That translates to English as “The Day of the birth of the unconquered sun.” It was celebrated on December 25th and, yes, the symbolic connections abound.
Another common mistake. Even the people who get the holiday right tend to talk about the decision to celebrate Christmas then as if it were a “top down” decision. Again, hogwash. All evidence points to the fact that the holiday began to be celebrated for Christ as almost a grassroots movement and that the leaders at the top collectively shrugged their shoulders with a “hey, why not?” type attitude. The early church was far, far less authoritarian than many amateur historians would like you to believe. (Yes, I’m looking at you Dan Brown and company)
Even Augustine said that there was a commonly held opinion by those of his flock that Jesus was born on December 25th. In a Christmas sermon he exhorted his congregation, “Let’s celebrate this day as a holiday not for the sake of the sun, which is observed by [pagan] believers as well as by ourselves, but for the sake of the One who created the sun.” Another ancient writer wrote, “It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on December 25th the birthday of the sun. On this day they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the elders of the Church saw that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day.”
React: Obviously, Jesus wasn’t really born on the 25th of December. So what? Although the evidence is shaky, I am among those who like to think He was born on the Day of Atonement 5BC. The thing is, no one really knows exactly. There’s all kinds of speculation and everybody seems to have solid evidence… too bad it doesn’t all point to the same day for everyone.
We don’t know today and the early church didn’t know either. Although I can imagine some of the disciples asking Jesus when His birthday was, it never made it into scripture. I can also imagine Jesus turning to Peter, winking, and saying, “What do you think it is?” Having a specific day set aside to celebrate the birth of Christ is a very good thing. You could say that one day is as good as any other, but since most of the Church world has been celebrating it on December 25th for at least the past 17-18 hundred years I tend to think that Christmas Day is much better than any other day. (BTW, for those in parts of the world who celebrate on January 7th, you’re still celebrating on December 25th, you’re just using the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar).
So even though today is the 20’th, not the 18’th… let’s follow Haggai’s advice. Let’s take a moment this Christmas season to remember that the Great Cornerstone has been laid. Laid in a manger to be exact. Let us celebrate the fact that Adam’s Seed is in that barn. God has come and lives among us. From this day, whenever it was, onward we have been blessed beyond measure.
God, I am so thankful that You came. Even though I know that it wasn’t on December 25’th, it was on Christmas Day. Whatever day it was, I chose to remember You, to celebrate You today and on every day that I draw breath. I especially chose to join with the world in rejoicing Your arrival on Christmas. Rather than nitpicking on the details, help me to bring honor to You by living a life of joy and celebration.