As one who was reared and raised in a strong Christian household our family found the Christmas season to be among the most festive of holidays, and today Christmas remains the most observed and most popular of all holidays.
Granted, much of that popularity, especially in the Western Hemisphere is due to the commercialization of the holiday, and in many areas of the world, it is still a rather insignificant holiday even among Christians, but still the Christmas story captures the heart in a way that transcends all the commercial hype.
The degree to which the holiday is valued in Christian culture even goes far beyond the other most Holy Day of Christianity, Easter or Resurrection Sunday. There is something about our human nature that we would rather focus on the birth of babies than on torture and death of accused criminals!
Especially for the young, the story of Christmas with all the images of angels and a young mother, shepherds and a stable of wise men, and royal intrigue make the season captivating.
However, that is part of the intent of the different ways the story is told in the Gospel accounts, as well as the preservation of so many traditions in the Church surrounding the Christmas holiday.
Historically, Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, but theologically, Christmas is the celebration of the incarnation of God in Jesus the Christ, the self-revelation of God to the world in human form for the reconciliation of humanity to Himself. And, while we most often think about Christmas as a single day, it is actually a season of the year.
In our most popular sense, this season extends four weeks before Christmas Day and for two weeks after. However, the time before Christmas is a special season called Advent, comprising the four Sundays before Christmas Day. While the entire season of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany can be seen together, they each have distinctly different roles in the Church year.
The term “Advent” means “coming” and is a season of expectation and hope, the time of waiting for the coming of the Messiah that is celebrated at Christmas. This time of waiting symbolizes the waiting throughout the Old Testament for the new act of God that would bring deliverance to his people. For Christians this season of expectation also symbolizes the waiting in anticipation for the Second Coming of the Christ when he will return and restore all things.
Consequently, the origins of the celebrations of Christmas and Epiphany, as well as the dates on which they are observed, are rooted deeply in the history of the early church. There has been much scholarly debate concerning the exact time of the year when Jesus was born, and even in what year he was born. And, actually, we do not know either.
Our best estimate is that Jesus was probably born in the springtime, somewhere between the years of VII and V Before Christ (BC). The lack of a consistent system of timekeeping in the first century, mistakes in later calendars, and calculations, and lack of historical details to cross reference events has led to this imprecision in fixing Jesus’ birth. This suggests that the Christmas celebration is not an observance of a historical date, but a commemoration of the event in terms of worship.
Ironically, the most commonly accepted conclusion is that Christmas originated in the Roman culture that celebrated the winter solstice on December 25.
Nevertheless, the meaning of Christmas might be the same for you as it is for us. And, it is this possibility, this God that we celebrate at Christmas and while it is not wishful thinking that things will get better when they cannot. It is hope incarnated into flesh, a hope that can be held in a mother’s arms, a hope that expresses a reality that will live beyond endings and death itself. It is the hope, the possibility that springs from impossible and insignificant beginnings, infused with the power of God through the Holy Spirit that will blossom into a light to the nations.
It is this possibility, this God that we celebrate at Christmas. And we do so with a confidence born, not of our own desire for it to be so, but from the birth of a child over 2,000 years ago, a child who was the Son of God and one who died for our sins!
Derek Boyd Hankerson
St. Augustine, FL
Derek Boyd Hankerson is the Managing Partner of Freedom Road, LLC. Derek is former vice president of the St. Johns County Republican Executive Committee and was an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention. Derek has been a leader in numerous community projects in support of Fort Mose, multicultural education and heritage tourism. Historic City News is pleased to be able to publish Derek’s periodic guest columns which are both informative and entertaining. Derek and his wife live in St. Augustine.