Mark Smith discusses the reason for the Christmas
Christmas! It seems to come around more quickly each year.
Some thrive on the season. Others are exhausted by the
thought of it. Some, with Ebenezer Scrooge, wail ''Bah hum
bug'' as they are haunted by the ghosts of Christmas past.
In many ways, what we see in 21st-century Western culture is
far removed from the event it commemorates. Santa, reindeer,
mistletoe and Christmas trees are foreign from a stable and
the birth of Christ. Someone once called Christmas the
Disneyfication of Christianity.
Christmas, for the Christian, is the annual commemoration of
the birth of Jesus Christ.
The actual date, however, remains a mystery. For the first
200 years or so, there was no particular day associated with
Jesus' birth, and no indication that it was celebrated at
all. By the second century, there was some interest and
speculation regarding which day Jesus was born. There are two
main theories concerning the date.
The first is the usurping of a pagan festival of Saturnalia,
which was celebrated from December 17 to 25. Christians not
wanting to take part in some of the gruesome rituals
associated with the celebration perhaps used a
state-sanctioned holiday to celebrate something that had
significance and meaning for them. Once Christianity had
became more significant, the celebration of Christmas was
more widely recognised.
The problem with this theory is that there is no record of
early Christians adopting pagan celebrations and
christianising them, until later. By then, it seems, the date
for Christmas was already established.
The second is to do with the date of Jesus' conception. Many
early Christian writers thought that Jesus' conception and
crucifixion happened on the same date, March 25 (Western
Church) or April 6 (Eastern Church), which relates to the
dating of Christmas being December 25 or January 6. This
debate over dates, however, is insignificant when compared to
the reason for the celebration.
What is the celebration and why? As we have stated, it
celebrates the coming of Jesus, Son of God incarnate.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is told before the birth that her
son will be a king, a divine king. C.S. Lewis says in his
classic Mere Christianity that Christianity is about ''how
the rightful king has landed, you might say in disguise''.
Jesus himself later affirms that he is a king and the reason
he was born is to testify to that truth. Jesus being a king
made many uneasy at the time; even King Herod sought to kill
him as a child because Herod was afraid of any rival.
Jesus spoke more about his kingdom, its reality, its
nearness, its future coming, than any other subject.
Bob Dylan, in his anthem When He Returns, puts it like this:
''He's got plans of His own to set up His throne, when He
And so Christmas relates not just to the coming of a man, but
the coming of a king - the Divine King, who promises to
return one day to claim his throne.
We learn more as we consider Joseph, Mary's fiancee. When
informed of his fiancee's surprise pregnancy, he is told to
call the child ''Jesus'', ''because he will save his people
from their sins''. This brings us to the heart of the
Christian message. The king, in selfless love, comes on a
The rescue is from sin, which is, at its core, a passive or
active rejection of God, the source and power behind life.
Jesus experienced the result of our rejection, death, so that
those who look to him can know forgiveness, freedom and new
life that lasts forever. Christians celebrate the Saviour
king who came to bring salvation, reconciliation between God
and man, and who is coming back to establish his throne
Unlike Scrooge, you don't need to be visited by three ghosts
of Christmas past, present and future to become a different
person with a new perspective in life.
However, an encounter with King Jesus will do that. His
undying love can melt, mould and motivate you. Experiencing
His forgiveness and new life is liberating. Debating times
and dates and filling Christmas with Disneyfication is only a
smokescreen. Take a look at Christ this CHRISTmas.
Mark Smith is pastor of Grace Church, Dunedin.