Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Somewhere locked up in my home is my birth certificate. You have one too. Birth certificates are very interesting documents. Mine not only tells me the date of my birth, but also the time (10:30 AM), the day of the week (Saturday), and the place (Westchester Square Hospital in the Bronx). It also has other information such as my mother and father’s full names, and even more. Since my birth certificate is 63 years old (like me), it is a fragile document which I keep in a safe and secure place.
Jesus had no birth certificate, of that I am sure. I suspect that Bethlehem 2000 or so years ago did not issue documentation to mark any birth. Even if they did, Mary and Joseph were visitors to Bethlehem when Jesus was born. They were natives of Nazareth. Except for the inn keeper, the shepherds, and the angels, it may be that no one else even knew he was born.
We mark the birth of Jesus every year on December 25th. I hope it will not shock you to learn that we really don’t know when Jesus was born. Not the day, not the month, and not even the year!
The only stories of Jesus’ birth are found in the gospels of Luke and Matthew. St. Luke’s account is the familiar one read every Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. St. Matthew’s account is a bit different, and is often read after Christmas and also on Epiphany (January 6th). The gospels of Mark and John do not even have an account of the birth of Our Lord.
In the early Church, Easter was celebrated from the very beginning. It still is the most important day for Christians. We actually know when Easter was, due to its connection to the Jewish Passover and the lunar calendar. For the birth of Jesus, we really have no clue. Christmas was not even celebrated until the 300’s when the gospels began to be used, and the Christian faith was no longer illegal.
So where did December 25th come from? It is near the “shortest day of the year” when we have the least amount of daylight. The Roman Empire celebrated a pagan feast called Saturnalia which marked the beginning of the increase of the light: The days getting “longer.” Those early Roman Christians may have taken that day as a way of presenting Jesus Christ as “the true Light that has come into the world” and also pre-empting the Romans and their pagan celebrations.
Are you embarrassed to learn that such an important day for Christians had some connection to pagan worship? Don’t worry. Christians are always “borrowing” from others. Christmas trees, Advent wreaths, Christmas caroling, and merry-making are all borrowed. Even Easter eggs are borrowed from pagans.
That’s what Christians do. We borrow from others, and give the practices a new meaning. We do not worship the increase of the light of the sun. We worship the SON who was sent by the Father to bring us the true Light, and lead us to heaven.
All this is to say that there is only one TRUE way to celebrate the birth of our Savior. That is at worship. That is the meaning of the word “CHRISTMAS.” It refers to the “CHRIST-MASS” which is the worship service on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Every year I hear the statement “I have too much to do. I am too busy to come to church on Christmas.” Do you hear the silliness of that statement? Christmas is about celebrating the gift of Jesus. If one is too busy to come and worship at the Christ-Mass, then one is too busy to praise and honor the Savior. So what are you celebrating? Christ needs no birth certificate. What he needs are faithful followers who gather in His House to celebrate His Birth. A blessed Advent, and a blessed Christ-Mass to you all. See you in church.
Pastor Rustico +