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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas the Great Inclusion; PART THREE

Christmas; The Great Inclusin
Part three - The Birthday of a King

There is only one surviving historical account of Jesus made during his time. Josephus, a historian of the time, wrote of Jesus being executed as a criminal. He elaborated no further. He did not write anything of the life of Jesus or his influence… only that he was killed as a common thief. Intuitively, however, you might think that there was more to it than that, for if Jesus were indeed a common thief, it would not merit historical annotation in that day. So, according to the people of that time, Jesus was a figure of some notoriety.

My husband tells of how his sister would help her son understand the “true meaning of Christmas” as he was growing up. She was a single mother with little money to celebrate the holidays. Yet she still found a unique way to make the event special for her little boy. She would make a birthday cake that they would share for the baby Jesus.

I hear often that we have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. I’ve never quite understood what that topic is meant to convey. Yes, this particular day supposedly marks a great Christian event…..

The books of the New Testament give us little to work with when establishing the real date of the birth of Jesus. In fact, these writings work against us in helping to determine the actual date. They can’t even agree in which city he was born. Two cities are identified.

The season of his birth is further confiscated by the description of events in the gospels. These indicate spring or fall time events, not winter.

Additionally, the year of his birth is totally masked by historical facts that contradict each other. has gratiously provided this concise example of what I'm talking about:

“The Gospel of Luke (1:5) states that John the Baptist was at least conceived, if not born, under Herod, and that Christ was conceived while John's mother was in the sixth month of her pregnancy (1:26). Luke's Gospel also states that Christ was born during the reign of Augustus and while Quirinius was the governor of Syria (2:1-2), . Blackburn and Holford-Strevens (2003, 770) indicate Quirinius' governorship of Syria began in AD 6, which is incompatible with conception in 4 BC, and say that "St. Luke raises greater difficulty....Most critics therefore discard Luke" (p. 776). Some scholars rely on John's Gospel to place Christ's birth in c.18 BC”
So we, quite honestly, do not know where Jesus was born, which day marks the day of his birth, or even the year he was born.

So, when to celebrate Christmas? Quite honestly, it wasn’t a concept followed in the early church. Celebrations of any kind (other than the sacraments) countered the doctrine. In early church history, it was believed that Jesus was born and killed on March 25. Jewish tradition mandated that a prophet live an integral number of years.

However, there came a need to further define Jesus. The church membership needed more to believe in. And, it was also important to use the concept of inclusion to help provide a step for non members into the organization. As the church became more of a Roman entity and moved from the lands of Jerusalem, it made sense to include the them.

In Italy, a well established festival was Saturnalia, a holiday held prior to the winter solstace. Small gift giving was common and the holiday lasted several days accompanied by much singing and drinking. Natalis Solis Invicti (the birthday of the unconquered sun) was a celebration of winter solstace on December 25. The date marked the shortest days of the year. The celebrations marked the rebirth of the sun… when the days would now grow longer. Many sun deities were worshiped. These holidays were popular among the Roman population. They marked a new beginning, new life, and serious party making.

It made sense to include these celebrations, these dates, into the Christian life. For, a religion to survive in Rome, it needed a Roman membership. This inclusion has its first recorded mark in history dated 221 AD by a traveling pastor named Sextus Julius Africanus.

And indeed it was. The church officially hijacked the festival of the unconquered sun. The Catholic Encyclopedia freely states that this Roman celebration has the strongest claim on the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

The date of his birth is ultimately unimportant. The inclusion of other peoples, the marriage of common beliefs, the celebration of life is what is important.

Copyright by Cindi Jones 2006 RSS feeds allowed

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