Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling
As Christmas approaches, inevitably I am asked by an international student (and occasionally by an American student) why we celebrate Christmas on December 25th. Interestingly enough, the date was debated by early church fathers who held opinions varying from November 20th to as late as January 2nd. By the end of the fourth century, December 25th had become the unified date of Christ’s birth. Referring to the Roman calendar’s winter solstice (December 25th), Augustine contended:
Hence it is that He was born on the day which is the shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. He, therefore, who bent low and lifted us up chose the shortest day, yet the one whence light begins to increase. Sermon 192
An alternative hypothesis found in an annotation of a twelfth-century manuscript of Syrian bishop, Jacob Bar-Saliibi, holds that Christians were drawn to a Roman celebration of the Birth of the Sun which took place on December 25th and included a kindling of lights ceremony. Alarmed church leaders acted quickly to solemnize December 25th as the official birthday of Christ (Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries, Ramsay MacMullen, Yale:1997, p.155). Regardless of the reason, it seems clear that the chosen date for Christmas best typifies two attributes of Jesus: that he is the light of the world (John 8:12) and the sun of righteousness (Malachi 4:2), the former of which lights our paths and brings life and the latter of which brings healing. So as we approach the Christmas season bombarded by retail advertising, let’s escape from the noise and spend time reflecting on the significance of Jesus’ birth and how December 25th beautifully portrays the Christ-child who leads us out of darkness into the Christmas light and hence brings healing and abundant life! Amen.