HOW CHRISTMAS CAME TO BE HELD ON 25TH DECEMBER
According to Moses in Exodus 12, God began to appoint feasts to commemorate and celebrate His saving acts amongst His people in order to create occasion for teachings and testimonies on such saving acts.
(25) And it shall come to pass, when you are come to the land which the LORD will give you, according as he has promised, that you shall keep this service.
(26) And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean you by this service?
(27) That you shall say, It is the sacrifice of the LORD’S passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshiped.
The early Church, like the Jews, believed that March 25th being the Spring Equinox (corresponding to Nisan or Abib Exd 13:4) was the date God created the universe with the earth, moon and sun in equinox alignment. This is because through Moses (Exd 12:1-2), God specifically directed that this period should be marked as the beginning of the year to the Israelites (Old Testament Exodus from Egyptian bondage) and happens to also be the time when Christ died for the sins of the whole world and resurrected from the dead (New Testament “Exodus” from sinful and satanic bondage).
Calculations by early Christian chronologists in Europe showed that Christ died on Spring Equinox, which fell on 25th March in 34 AD. (In the primitive Egyptian Church, Christ’s death was also calculated to be 6th April 30 AD which also puts Epiphany Day on 6th January). Early Christians believed that Christ must have died on the same date as He was conceived, hence making the Annunciation visit of Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38) and the Crucifixion to be 25th March. John had been conceived six months earlier (Luke 1:26,36) in October during the second turn of priestly ministry of the Abijah family to which Zachariah belonged (Luke 1:5-9). Since the time of David (1Chron 24:3-5), the Aaronic family has been divided into 24 to take weekly duty turn every six months at the Temple beginning with the month of Abib (March) with Abijah as the eighth family (1Chron 24:10). By these calculation and conviction, Christ’s Nativity (Christmas) must have been nine months later i.e. 25th December, during the tax census registration shortly before the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC (Mat 2; Luke 2).
In ancient times calendars were multiple, complex and irregularly shifting against the seasonal Equinoxes and Solstices. Initially when the Church was under persecution, some Church dioceses especially in the East commemorated only Epiphany (Manifestation of Christ’s Glory to the shepherds and the magi at His birth and to Israel at His baptism and to the Apostles at Transfiguration) on 6th or 10th January while other dioceses (especially in Africa and the West) also commemorated Christmas (Birth of Christ) without uniformity on the day of its commemoration which ranged from March to April to May to November to December. When the Church became free and began to work with uniform calendar under Pope Julius (c. 350 AD), the Churches, agreed to celebrate their New Year on the Annunciation Day (25th March) when Christ must have taken up flesh (Incarnation) in His mother’s womb to begin the New Creation which meant that His birth must be 25th December. (In England however, the Nativity of Christ on December 25th was preferred as New Year Day till the 14th century.) This means that the time of the Exodus of Israel from Egyptian bondage through the slain Passover Lamb (Exd 12 and 13) corresponds to the time of Christ’s Crucifixion, Resurrection and even Incarnation (the time of the Church’s New Exodus from the bondage of sin and Satan by the crucified Lamb of God Luke 22 and 23)!
Later the Church adopted the Julian Calendar of the Roman Empire because of its seasonal consistency. In the Julian Calendar, the New Year was on 1st January (instead of the Church’s usual Incarnation/Crucifixion New Year date of 25th March) but this coincidentally commemorated the Circumcision and Naming of Christ, when He entered the citizenship covenant of Israel and the royal covenant as the Son of David. Notice that, although 1st Century Rome had about 57 different feasts and games in the year (i.e. average of one feast per week!); the Church did not adopt any of these feasts but adopted the secular New Year Day of the old Julian Calendar. Christmas was derived from biblical and Jewish reckonings. This gives room for Easter to be made movable to always fall on a Sunday. It is worthy of note that the British Church however continued to mark December 25th Nativity as her New Year till 14th century.
There are recent conjectures, speculating that December 25th was chosen to clash with or replace the ancient Roman Saturnalia (17th December) and much later celebration of the birth of the Persian Sun-god Mithra (25th December) was introduced by Emperor Aurelian about 271 AD. In the antichrist culture of our days, it is not any wonder that people (even Christians) tend to give more credence to secular speculations and street fables of the heathens than they would give to sanctuary teachings and scriptural testimonies of the Church. Claims that pagan religions celebrated festivities on 25th December in Rome before the Church began Christmas is falsehood based on ignorance about (or disregard of) historical facts and the basis for the development of the Church Calendar. Others ridiculously trace origin of Christmas to Yule log and fir tree decorations. The truth is that in the 3rd and 4th century Rome, sun worship and Mithra cultism confused Christmas for awhile in the same way end of year consumerist festivities do today, till the Church stood its ground to rescue its Christmas from the sun cult interference as we are trying to do today. I hope they will not soon trace the origin of Christmas to the Santa or the greeting cards, crackers, buntings and lightings which are confusing distractions and interferences but not even part of the Church’s Christmas worship programme!
To the Church, Christmas is not ancient or modern heathen cultural fanfare; CHRISTMAS is CHURCH WORSHIP SERVICE (Mass) in remembrance of the birth of CHRIST and Scriptural commemoration that seeks to remember and imitate key actors of the original Christmas story and join in their response to the first coming of the Christ Saviour. This helps us fashion our own response in preparation for His next glorious second coming. The Holy Family and the Shepherds rescued their Christmas from the interference of Augustus’ census to join God’s programme with His Son and His Angels, so must the Church rescue biblical Christmas from interference of worldly heathenism.
WHAT CHRISTIANS SHOULD BE DOING DURING CHRISTMAS
According to Matthew, Christ’s birth was celebrated by the Stars in the heavens (Matt. 2:2, 9,10); while the Gentile Wise-Men marked it on earth with a long, star-guided journey or pilgrimage. On their arrival in Judea, King Herod summoned Men of God together for biblical inquiry to ascertain the city where Christ would be born. And on reaching the manger, the Wise Men worshipped and presented expensive gifts to the infant King, Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (Matt. 2:1-12).
According to Luke, the Angels in heaven celebrated Christ’s birth with GOSPEL PROCLAMATION of great joy for all people, peace and goodwill for the whole earth and SINGING OF CHRISTMAS CAROL to glorify God in the highest heaven (Luke 2:8-14); while the Jewish Shepherds on earth celebrated it with a visit to the Baby Christ, EVANGELISM to all and PRAISE to God (Luke 2:15-20). Later Adventist/Messianic Israelites like Simeon and Anna who prayed and waited for the coming of the Messiah celebrated Christ in the Temple with prophetic worship and preaching (Luke 2:21-38). The Messiah was coming to console and redeem Israel (Luke 2:25, 38; 23:51; 24:21; Mark 15:43).
People of God, if redoing the events recorded in the Bible at the birth of Christ is appropriate, Christmas should be a celebration of the birth of Christ marked by:
+great joy (for God’s great gift of a Saviour),
+travels for missionary/charitable visit and pilgrimage,
+biblical inquiry from God’s Word (Bible Teaching Retreat as done by some Churches today),
+worship to God and carol singing about Christ (as is done by many Churches and Choirs today),
+evangelistic preaching of the Gospel of eternal salvation from sin through faith in Jesus Christ,
+making peace with and among all people,
+exchange of goodwill (as greetings, gestures and gifts),
+presentation of offerings to God and
+proclaiming Jesus as the Christ of God, the Lord of all and the Saviour of all.
Christmas is not a time for smoking, drugging and drinking parties, rancor, violence, robbery, profiteering, sexual immorality, carousing and rioting.
Christmas should be a time of making peace and sharing goodwill amongst all people, both Jews and Gentiles, Christians and non-Christians – A TIME FOR ALL HUMANITY TO JOIN THE ANGELS IN THE CAROL OF PRAISE TO GOD with great joy for God’s love-gift of the Saviour. But more than merely celebrating the birth of Christ, we need to BELIEVE IN HIM AND YIELD OUR LIVES TO HIM to save us from sin and damnation. In this way we will be at peace with God and be instruments of God’s peace in the world.
Today’s Christmas consumerism, sensualization, decoration and celebration must never be allowed to overshadow the acclamation of the Christ (Who is the Lord of and Reason for Christmas) and the proclamation of His saving mission to the world.