I ever read an article in the daily graphic dated Wednesday, December 16th, 2015 which was entitled “the Myth behind the Celebration of Christmas”. In the said article, the writer said the merger of Christianity with Roman worship gave rise to the celebration of Christmas on the 25th of December.
And suggested that 25th December is not the exact date of the birth of Christmas. The article further alleged that, 25th December was a Roman pagan worship that is being used as the day for Christmas by Christians.
Therefore, from the said article, it appears there is a debate among Christians about the exact date of birth of Christ. This makes me to also ask whether there is a myth behind the celebration of Christmas.
The point must be made that, searching through the scriptures, there is no mention of the exact date on which Christ was born neither will one find the word Christmas. I do not find this to be surprising since the stories about Christ as contained in the gospel narratives are not history perse, but they are theological stories narrated from the point of view of the various evangelists to generate faith in Jesus (John 20:31).
As a matter of fact, the gospels were not written in vacuum but they were written to confront particular challenges facing different Christian communities. For instance with respect to the gospel of Luke, one Richard Rohr has this to say: “some naively think God spoke the Gospel’s words into the Evangelist’s ears.
That understanding gives the Scripture an authority unrelated to culture and history and unfortunately, unrelated to reality as well”. Hence Richard argues that “what is written in Luke’s gospel describes a believing community’s reflection on the mystery of the risen Lord at the time Luke was writing reflecting their questions, problems and needs.
” (R. Rohr, The Good News According to Luke: Spiritual Reflection (The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York 1997)), 14) . So therefore, if one is searching for the exact date of birth of Christ in the gospels the person might be disappointed since the date of his birth was probably not a problem for the Gospel writers to address.
The Evangelists were concerned with necessary and essential things in the life of Christ especially those aspects of His birth, Signs, Miracles, Words, death and resurrection which respond to the problems of the early Christian Communities.
For instance, reading through the gospel of Mark, it does not mention the birth of Christ as narrated by Luke, but goes straight to the Work of Christ. Therefore, in my view, this suggest the date of the Birth of Christ was not a problem to the community that Mark and the other gospel writers were writing to. The exact date on which Christ was born is still not a problem, but what is important is that Christ was born. He entered human history and that is well known.
If the birthday of Christ is not known, then one may ask, did Christ ask Christians to celebrate His birthday? The answer is not explicit. But if He asked us to remember His death (Luke 22:19), then its reasonable to remember His birth also. And being who He is, the Son of the Living God, it is befitting that a date be set aside to remember His birth. The Christian faith must be lived in a culture.
And the culture of the day calls for the celebration of birthdays. In Ghana it is increasingly very common to mark the birthdays of love ones. And as Christians, its important that we also mark the birthday of Jesus Christ. When St. John Paul II was in Ghana, addressing the catholic Bishops he said, ”Christ in the members of His body is Himself an African”. So Christ is one of us, and we should be able to mark His birthday.
The Christian faith is not against culture and tradition like the celebration of birthdays and others. But rather, the faith takes it up, cleans it up, and makes the saving work of Christ present among the people. Therefore if the Romans were celebrating a festival on 25th December, then it is not against any law, if that date is adopted to celebrate Christ’s birth. After all Jesus is the Lord of All.
One may ask, is Christmas mentioned in the Bible? It is not there. Just as there are many Christian commemorations which are not mentioned in the Bible but through tradition are being celebrated to this day. Examples of such traditions like Ash Wednesday and many others.
It needs to be pointed out that any person searching for the faith should rather ask, “was Jesus Truly Born?” “Did God really become man?” If so, is it worth remembering when he was born? Is His Birth –not date of birth, recorded in the Scriptures? If yes what does that imply for humanity?
Honest answers to these questions should lead one to realise that God became man, so that man can become divine(St. Ireneus). Hence every aspect of Christ becomes salvific and must be remembered and cherished. From his birth through to his death it is worth remembering. Having said this, I wish to say that instead of worrying about when Christ was born, Christmas should rather be looked at in three dimensions.
The first dimension is to see Christmas as a recall of the historical event that took place in Palestine over 2000 years ago when the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us(John 1:1). His first coming is worth celebrating. It is worth remembering.
The Second dimension is that, Christ promised a second coming. Since his resurrection and ascension, He promised He will be back. By celebrating Christmas, Christians look forward to the second coming of Christ. His second coming should be looked at as something in the present and not just in the far future.
Jesus says wherever two or more are gathered in His name He is in their midst (Mathew 18:19-20). Any time Christians gather, a Christmas atmosphere is created. Also, anytime somebody is born again or accepts Christ in their lives, it means that Christ is born in their hearts. Therefore on daily basis Christ keep coming.
He comes to humanity in the poor and needy. Indeed, He says that the judgment day would be about how the poor are treated : naked, hungry, thirsty, those in prison, those sick, those strangers(migrants). Therefore, in a subtle way Christ keeps coming a second time to humanity every day through these mediums. Christmas is a time for Christians to pause and reflect on this His second coming.
Christmas calls for a change of attitude. Christians should not be sad for 364 days in the year and get happy on 25th December. People should not go about stealing and then use one day to give alms to the needy on 25th December. People should not be corrupt for 364 days in the year and use 25th December to do Charity work after which they return to their old sinful ways.
The final dimension is that Christmas should be celebrated with the view to looking forward to the final coming of Christ. Where he will no longer come as a child, or some one in need but as the king of glory to judge the living and the dead.
Therefore in view of the above, the day on which Christ was born is not necessary. What is important is that Christ was born. What is important is that He is EMMANUEL, the GOD WITH US. What is important is that he will come again in Glory one day to judge the whole world.
To this end, the Church says, At Christmas the glory of heaven is shown forth in the weakness of a baby; the circumcision of Jesus is a sign of his belonging to the Hebrew people and is a prefiguration of our Baptism; the Epiphany is the manifestation of the Messiah King of Israel to all the nations;
at the presentation in the temple, Simeon and Anna symbolise all the anticipation of Israel awaiting its encounter with its Savior; the flight into Egypt and the massacre of the innocents proclaim that the entire life of Christ will be under the sign of persecution; the departure from Egypt recalls the exodus and presents Jesus as the new Moses and the true and definitive liberator. (the Compendium of the CCC)
In conclusion, I think there is no myth behind the celebration of Christmas apart from it being a faith encounter. So when Jesus comes, will humanity be ready for him?
Source: Emmanuel Wullingdool