December 25 began as a time of pagan celebration. The pagans knew that at this point in their calendar the shortest day and longest night had passed, that little by little the sun would rise higher and remain longer in the sky, bringing with it the promise of spring. The Emperor Aurelian (A.D. 270-275) capitalized upon the heathen worship of the sun and, in the year A.D. 274, officially declared December 25 as the birthday of the Unconquered Sun (dies natalis solis invicti).
Historians did not begin to date history from Christ's birth until the sixth century, when a learned monk of Rome, Dionysius Exiguus, introduced the method. We know now that Dionysius, erred in his computations and dated Christ's birth some four or five years too late in history. Rather than adjusting the dates for all historical events books today simply list Christ's birth at about 4 B.C. Regardless of the year, we can be reasonably sure that Jesus was not born during the month of December. In the Middle East, December is not a month when shepherds or sheep remain in the open fields at night. Winters in the mountain regions of Judea are not a time for flocks to be long exposed to the elements of nature. Because of the cold weather and the chilling rains, it is most unlikely that they would be outdoors. More likely, Jesus was born sometime after the rains of April and before those of November—the season sheep would be found in the open fields at night. December was also not a likely month for governing authorities to send people to register at their home of record (Luke 2:1-3). Winter travel would have been more difficult.
The early church did not celebrate Christ’s birth. How then did December 25 gain its Christian emphasis? Evidently, sometime during the early fourth century, Christians began searching for the proper day to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Some churches celebrated it on January 6, others April 20, May 20, March 29, and September 29. So much confusion existed that Saint Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, about the middle of the fourth century, inquired of the Roman bishop, Julius, regarding the correct date. Julius wrote Cyril that he personally favored December 25. Obviously refusing to accept this date as valid, Cyril and the Jerusalem church continued celebrating the event for many years on January 6. In A.D. 354, two years following the end of Saint Julius' reign, the new Roman bishop, Liberius, ordered all his people to celebrate December 25 as the correct day of Christ's birth. With the passage of time this date became the more popular and was soon adopted by most of Christendom.
Where did the name Christmas originate? In the medieval ages the celebration of Christmas took the form of a special mass said at midnight on the eve of Christ's birth. Since this was the only time in the Catholic church year when a midnight mass was allowed, it soon became known in the Old English as Christes Masse (Christ's Mass), from which is derived the word Christmas.
So we Christians come together to celebrate. The joy of Christmas is not founded in the tree or ornaments, lights or gifts, food or music, vacation or company but in the realization that our Heavenly Father sent His Son to save us. Let us remember that our great purpose is worship. If December 25th reminds us anew of our precious Lord then let us celebrate with vigor. If December 25this an opportunity for us to share the good news again the angels brought, let nothing hold us back! In truth, may we be reminded every day that God loved us so vastly that He became like us to win us. May our hearts be filled with a love for Him that exceeds containment. For in truth, the word Christmas if we borrow a Spanish suffix, means “more Christ”! Something to think about . . . in reveration.
Micah 5:2--Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; One will come from you to be ruler over Israel for Me. His origin is from antiquity, from eternity
All we could ever imagine, could ever hope for, He is . . . All this, and infinitely more, alive in an impoverished baby in a barn. That is what Christmas means--to find in a place where you would least expect to find anything you want, everything you could ever want.—Michael Card in The Promise.
©2000 Daniel York ARR. Reveration is the weekly devotional ministry of First Cause. If you would like to receive these devotionals go to www.firstcause.org and click on the “Click here to receive weekly devotionals” box. Unlimited permission to copy this devotional without altering text or profiteering is allowed subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.
Ecclesiastes 12:10-The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings and to accurately write words of truth. (Holman CSB)
These Times, December, 1981, p. 22