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“The Changing of Christmas”

Now for probably all of us today, we know that Christmas has certainly changed since we were kids. It has changed a lot in my lifetime. I remember the first time I heard the statement about the war on Christmas. I was shocked that such a special and wonderful time would illicit a war, a battle of the recognition of the time and what it is about. Remember that for all practical purposes Christmas is a Christian holiday. As Christian’s, we celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, Messiah.

I grew up here at Palm Ave Baptist Church in Tampa, FL. As a matter of fact, I was asked recently to return to the church and preach. It was a time of memories for me and the many Christmas I celebrated there as a child.

-Christmas productions: Mom in the choir and Dad doing the narration

-sounds and colors of the holidays: the church decorated and the sounds of Christmas

-Night of Miracles in WFLA channel 8 LIVE: the church would buy air time and on Christmas Eve at midnight do a LIVE service broadcast from the studio on Jackson Street with the choir and Dr. Warner preaching. I would be there too and it is a wonderful memory.

When we think about “The Changing of Christmas” we know from history that in the Middle Ages, Christmas celebrations were rowdy and raucous—a lot like today’s Mardi Gras parties.

From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in Boston, and law-breakers were fined five shillings.

Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the United States on June 26, 1870.

Construction workers started the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition in 1931.

Rudolph, “the most famous reindeer of all,” was the product of Robert L. May’s imagination in 1939. The copywriter wrote a poem about the reindeer to help lure customers into the Montgomery Ward department store.

Even from what we have just noted, Christmas has changed a lot. However, what was God’s plan for Christmas? Christmas has not changed from the plan that God had when in Revelation 13:8b we read He was …the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

To that fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 that …The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

And Micah 5:2

2 "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting."

However, Christmas has changed and will continue to change in many ways in the future. But, the message and the reason we celebrate Christmas will never change.

Why a Christmas celebration? The most common response is that it is to honor the birth of Jesus Christ. It does do that but its origins were in replacement of heathen events that occurred in the winter month. So the customs of those events found their way in to the typical society of the day as a part of Christmas and its observance.

An interesting note is that at the time of Christ, and the beginning of the first churches, it was not customary to celebrate the beginning. Thus recognizing a birth by yearly acknowledgement was not something that was done. It was customary however to celebrate and acknowledge the end of life. So from the time of the early church, tradition would have had more significance in noting His death and resurrection than His birth.

So the customs of those events found their way in to the typical society of the day as a a part of Christmas and its observance. The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking.

In Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday.

Germans were terrified of Oden, as they believed he made nocturnal flights through the sky to observe his people, and then decide who would prosper or perish.

Because of his presence, many people chose to stay inside.

By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. By the Middle Ages, Christianity had, for the most part, replaced pagan religion.

Why Christmas on December 25th? The simple answer is found in what we have just learned. Most pagan rituals were celebrated in the month of December and specifically It was selected because it coincided with the festival Saturnalia from the Romans. Actually by understanding the cultural and from Biblical accounts, we could determine another time of year for His birth.

In Luke 2:8 we are told that-

“there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

Note that they were “abiding” in the field. This never happened in December. Both Ezra 10:9-13 and the Song of Solomon 2:11 show that winter was the rainy season and shepherds could not stay on cold, open fields at night.

The Adam Clarke Commentary, volume 5, page 370, New York edition tells us that-

“It was custom among Jews to send out their sheep to the deserts about the Passover [early spring], and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain.” The first rains began in early-to-mid fall.

Why Christmas customs? In 1819, best-selling author Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., a series of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house.  Also around this time, English author Charles Dickens created the classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol. The story’s message-the importance of charity and good will towards all humankind-struck a chord in the United States and England and showed society the benefits of celebrating the holiday.

Then there’s the Christmas tree. The modern Christmas tree originated in Germany but the Germans got it from the Romans, who got it from the Babylonians and the Egyptians.

Holly had its origin in the winter solstice to represent new life. Presents are referenced back to the gifts given to Christ by the wise men of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In a very real way, Christmas has changed much from its early inception. The reason for Christmas celebration was primarily to draw attention away from what were non-Christian influences in the world. To draw attention to good and peace, for people to see who God is through His Son Jesus Christ and that is exactly what we want to do each year as we celebrate Christmas.

In this wonderful Christmas season, Elaine and I want wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thank you for allowing me to come to you each week and share ”A thought to ponder”. It is a blessing and honor to share with you what God is leading me to write about each week.

In God’s Grace,

Elbert Nasworthy

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