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SOME NOTES ON THE BIRTH OF JESUS CHRIST

24 Dec

SOME NOTES ON THE BIRTH OF JESUS CHRIST

(A biblical refection on CHRISTMAS MIDNIGHT MASS – Wednesday, 25 December 2019)

Gospel Reading: Luke 2:1-14

First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalms: Psalm 96:1-3,11-13; Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14 

The Scripture Text

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!” (Luke 2:1-14 RSV)

The Gospel according to Luke tells us the shepherds were guarding their flocks at night when the angels appeared to them to announce the birth of the Messiah. This little detail tells us Jesus could not have been born in December, a month during which the Palestinian nights are too cold for sheep and shepherds to be out in the fields. Most likely, Jesus was born in the early spring because that was the birthing season for the sheep, a time when the shepherds would be in the fields with their sheep throughout the night just in case one of the sheep experienced a difficult delivery.

Why, then, do we celebrate Jesus’ birthday on December 25? Strangely, the answer to this question lies in a pagan feast.

Some pagan peoples viewed the world as a battleground for a struggle between the powers of darkness (the evil gods) and the powers of light (the good gods). These pagans became alarmed in early December because they noticed the days getting shorter, a situation they interpreted to mean the evil gods were overcoming the good gods. Therefore, these people held a feast at which they partied and made lots of noise in an attempt to rouse the good gods from their sleep and encourage them to fight back. They celebrated this feast on December 25.

As the days began getting longer, the pagans concluded their strategy apparently worked. For them more daylight was an indication the good gods, the powers of light, were defeating the powers of darkness. Of course, today we know longer days had nothing to do with their feast but with the winter solstice which occurs on December 22.

Some of the early Christians were once pagans who celebrated this feast with their neighbors. After they converted, they believed in one God instead of many gods who were fighting, but they were reluctant to give up the partying that they once did on this occasion. What were they to do? They solved this dilemma by giving the pagan feast a Christian meaning. This was easy to do since Jesus is the light who came into the world to overcome the darkness of sin. By adapting the feast to Christianity, the followers of Jesus were able to celebrate with their pagan neighbor without giving up their faith in the one true God.

The exact day Jesus was born is really not important. In fact, Jesus’ birth was not even celebrated in the early days of the Church (Easter was and still is the most important Christian feast). What does matter, however, is that God became men and lived among us. Take time today to thank God for the gift of the Son. 

(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 10-11.)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I praise You and thank you wholeheartedly for giving me Jesus, my Lord and Savior. Give me a “Mary” Christmas. May I love Jesus as Mary does. Amen.

Jakarta, 24 December 2019 

A Christian Pilgrim

 

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