It’s Christmas today! Here are some thoughts:
1. I didn’t go with my Mom and her husband to midnight mass last night because, well, it was at midnight, and I was tired. Maybe I’d be more cheerful today had I gone! Still, at least I got things done this morning.
I’m not sure if I missed much. They’re kind of the same every year. But I usually do have a feeling of warmth when I go.
2. I grew up in an Armstrongite church that didn’t celebrate Christmas because it regarded it as pagan. Yesterday, I was reading an article by the leader of the church that we attended back when I was a kid. The article is by Garner Ted Armstrong and is entitled “Christmas…the Untold Story.” The article opens, “Anyone can discover the truth about the pagan origins of Christmas, simply by looking up the word, along with all its accouterments and symbols in the major encyclopedias and history books.”
That’s something we’d say: Christmas is pagan, and, if you don’t believe us, look it up in any encyclopedia! We’d praise one who did so as someone who was willing to think rather than accept the customs around him without question. The thing is, what if those encyclopedias were wrong, albeit understandably wrong? I was reading a blog post yesterday, Darrell Pursiful’s “When Was Jesus Born? Why December 25?” Pursiful appeals to scholar William Tighe and says that Tighe asserts that “there is in fact no evidence for a pagan observance of December 25 prior to emperor Aurelian’s decree [in 274 C.E. that December 25 is the Unconquered Sun’s birthday,] and, as Hippolytus and Julius Africanus attest, Christians had already been celebrating the date as the birthday of Jesus for at least 50 years before Aurelian.” I can understand how encyclopedias can conclude that Christians got Christmas from the pagans, for fifty years is not much time, and a person who fails to look closely at the weeds may walk away with the impression that Christians were basing Christmas on the celebration of the Unconquered Sun. But there are reasons to believe the contrary. (Note: Pursiful still says that certain Christmas customs have pagan roots.)
On a side note, I did not find all of Garner Ted’s arguments to be bad. Would Caesar Augustus order a nationwide census (Luke 2) during the winter, when Jesus exhorted his disciples that winter was not a good time to flee Jerusalem (Matthew 24:20)? Good question!
3. I was reading a blog post this morning, Roger Olson’s “For God So Loved the World…That He Couldn’t Stay Away: A Christmas Meditation.” The following passage especially stood out to me:
“I believe, with the Eastern churches, that the incarnation was God’s great plan and purpose in creation all along; it was not merely a ‘rescue mission.’ It became a rescue mission, but it would have happened even if humanity had not fallen due to rebellion. The purpose of God toward the world, toward humanity especially, was to join with it and join it with him by becoming one of us so we could become part of him. The original plan (to speak mythically) did not include the cross, but it became part of the plan when humanity rebelled. Because of our rebellion and God’s refusal to give up on his plan, the wounds of Jesus remain forever embedded in God’s life.”
I was thinking about where this overlapped with and differed from my Armstrongite heritage. My impression is that Armstrongites believe that God had grand plans for human beings before they sinned, and that their sin necessitated God taking certain steps—-sending Christ to die for our sins—-to get those grand plans back on track. These plans were for human beings to become part of the God family, spirit beings. I doubt that Armstrongites would accept, however, that the incarnation would have occurred even had human beings not sinned. They don’t even think that Jesus has his fleshly body anymore, maintaining that Jesus is a spirit being, and they hold that our destiny is to become spirit beings. It’s almost as if they regard the incarnation as a temporary stage Jesus had to go through to die for our sins. They may still acknowledge, however, that Jesus’ incarnation means that God understands what we are going through, since God himself was a human being.
4. Growing up as someone who didn’t keep Christmas, I felt weird, yet superior to those who kept it. “There are seriously people who believe in Santa Claus?”, I thought. It’s interesting to me nowadays that there are Christians who observe Christmas yet advise parents against telling their kids there is a Santa Claus. See here. I tend to agree with them. I am all for honoring the loving deeds of the historical St. Nicholas, but I don’t see why parents have to lie to their kids by saying that Santa Claus is real.
Anyway, have a Happy Holidays! (“No, it’s Merry Christmas.” “But not everyone keeps Christmas this holiday season.” Blah blah. The debates are endless!)