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Points to Ponder: Why is Christmas Day on December 25?

Points to Ponder
Why is Christmas Day on December 25?

In the days of the Roman Empire, the feast of Saturnalia (named for the Nature god, Saturnus) was celebrated from December 17 into the new year. Being the darkest time of year, when the days were shortest, there was great celebration and revelry in the hope that the sun would be reborn, and come back. It was a time of merriment and gift-giving among friends (especially to children); and also a time of wild parties and good times all around, which would have put today's office Christmas party to shame.
The highlight of this period was the "Day of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun" on December 25 (according to our calendar). It was the great feast day of the pagan Mithraic religion, a faith, which rivaled Christianity in popularity, particularly among the Roman soldiers. Certainly there were other influences, but essentially this period of December was a pagan festival time designated for worshiping the sun god.
In A.D. 354, Bishop Liberius of Rome ordered all Christians to celebrate the birth of the unconquerable Son, Jesus Christ on December 25. It was a deliberate way of Christianizing a pagan holy day. It was called "Christ Mass Day," or as we now call it, "Christmas Day."
St. John Chrysostom (A.D. 386) writes, "They called this December, the Birthday of the Invincible One (Mithrias); but who was so invincible as the Lord? They call it the birthday of the Solar Disc; but Christ is the Son of Righteousness."
There are various sources one can consult to find more details; but suffice it to say that Christmas in its original form had nothing to do with Jesus. Many wonder if it has anything to do with Him now.
What today's Christmas season has become presents for us two extremes. Some are excited and happy; particularly children. Others are depressed and can't wait til it's over. Many fall somewhere in the middle. There is a traditional approach most of us have for this season - particularly for Christmas Day itself. Some rush down to the tree at the crack of dawn, happily ripping open gifts and pouring out bulging stockings filled with goodies. Others may enjoy a special breakfast, or go to a loved one's home and ease into the day.
As a child, I loved the presents and surprises; but by 10:00 a.m., Christmas was "over." All of that build up and anticipation and once the last gift was opened, there was a let-down kind of feeling. Without putting it in words, I recall feeling like, "Is that it?" Of course, to be honest, that is it for many folks - lots of stuff, followed by the bills to pay for what you gave others. Santa with "lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh" is Christmas in America.
Can it get any better than this?
Let me challenge you to make it better by making one simple yet profound (even revolutionary!) change. Give Jesus the first hour on His "birthday."
Here's the challenge: if the first thing you do is give that first hour to the One for Whom the Day is named, you will notice how surprisingly (refreshingly) different the rest of the day will be. Our pastor challenged us over 20 years ago to come to church first. At first, I groaned, but we went. And we today wouldn't do Christmas any other way!
My invitation to YOU: Leave the presents and stuff, put on your slippers (and some pants - it's cold out!). And gather with the family of Christ at your church; or join us at Hilltop Christian Fellowship at 9:00 a.m. Come as you are. Don't worry about the coffee. We'll have it ready. We'll have the story from the Bible and a story for the kids. No offering will be received other than your presence. The other presents will be there when you get home.
It's a big change for some people. But maybe this is the year when change is due.

Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship, 12624 Trinity Church Drive, Clear Spring, MD (1/4 mile east of Clear Spring on Rt. 40). Listen to Pastor Dennis on WJEJ-1240 AM, Tues and Thurs, at 10:45am and 7:50pm, both days. www.hilltopchristianfellowship.com.

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