In the Children’s Sermon at Christmas, Pastor Mark asked the children “What is going to happen at Christmas?” A child responded, “Baby Jesus is coming down the chimney.” Well …. he was half correct.
Christmas has several names to include Christmastide, the Christmas season, the Nativity, and Twelvetide. Although individuals in westernized countries often equate Christmas with December 25, Christmas is a season in the liturgical calendar of most Christian churches. The season of Christmas begins at sunset on December 24 and ends at sunset on January 5, thus, lasting 12 days. The Advent season precedes the Christmas season and the Epiphany season follows it. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, that is, when God became human (incarnate) in the person of Mary’s son, Jesus.
The basis for the feast of Jesus’ birth (Christmas) is the infancy stories in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. In chapter 1 of his gospel, Matthew outlined the human genealogy of Jesus and the announcement of the birth of Jesus to both Mary and Joseph. In chapter 2, he recorded the visit of the wise men to the Holy Family and their flight to Egypt. Chapters 1 and 2 of the gospel of Luke provides information about the angel, Gabriel, announcing the birth of Jesus to his mother and include events surrounding Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem.
Not until the third century after Jesus’ death did Christians begin to celebrate December 25 as his birthday; but, by the fourth century, celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 spread throughout the church. Almost-universal celebrations included singing carols, feasting, giving gifts, time away from jobs, and attending church services
With the Protestant Reformation, Christmas as a celebratory time changed. The most significant changes occurred in England and north-eastern United States. Many Protestant reformers rejected Christmas. Particularly, English Puritans were hostile to Christmas celebrations and tried to suppress them. During the brief Calvinist reign in England, parliament forbade the celebration of Christmas. In America, Christmas was outlawed or criminalized in Puritan states, i.e., until the 1830s anyone in Massachusetts who missed school or work on December 25th was subject to a fine. With the exception of Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans, religious and even secular Christmas celebrations were rare in colonial United States.
In contemporary United States, some church denominations orient members away from ostentations Christmas gaiety to the original purpose of Christmas as the time of Jesus’ birth. Currently, in the United State there is controversy on whether or not to wish others a “Merry Christmas.” When American wish each other a Merry Christmas, mostly we mean “have a happy day and dinner.” Originally, Merry Christmas has a different meaning. Traditionally, “Merry” meant “peaceful or blessed” rather than a jocular, gay, or happy. Merry is an adjective for heavenly serenity, not earthly mirth.
Reflection: Where do you put your focus and energies during Christmas time? As you happy with how your energy is spent. Do you anticipate making any changes?