While the world has turned its thoughts to Christmas, other matters intrude: In the US, many are preoccupied by the much-hyped “fiscal cliff” and the planned increase in taxes as well as the aftermath of the the horrific shooting at the elementary school — the one in which no one had a weapon to defend themselves with. The US government’s plans to exact more taxes, and to reduce Constitutional freedoms, are much discussed.
I have obligations to Citizen Tom, voluntarily undertaken, remaining from the “Food for Thought Award” — and they include this seventh in a series on Sunday verses that have inspired my thought. In this instance, Luke 2 comes to mind, as it is both an account of the birth of of Jesus, and it begins with an announcement of government taxation:
2 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2 goes on to describe the circumstances of Jesus’ birth and early life, continuing in Luke 3 with an account of Jesus being both the Son of God and the (great^76) grandson of God with each step in the 77-part intermediate lineage identified. Matthew goes into more background, but only a partial ancestry list.
But neither Luke nor the other synoptic gospels say exactly when the birth of Jesus occurred. The date seems not to have been celebrated in the first couple of centuries, though the common supposition, “everybody knows the date came from a later pagan ritual,” appears to be wrong. The Western world’s churches have celebrated this occasion on December 25 for more than a thousand years, even though the actual date this falls on would have been adjusted with calendar tinkerings. (Compare this to Easter, which gets a lunar-based calculation that is rather mathematically involved and independent of the calendar conventions of any given time.)
While the Romans instituted (at least by 275AD or so) the use of December 25th for the holiday of “Sol Invictus” (“the Invincible Sun [god]“), Augustine of Hippo wrote around that time about December 25th as a tradition among the Donatists that dates from even earlier. And at that time, before Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the early 300s and made it safe (or safer) to practice, Christians seemed disinclined to adopt anything pagan in their practices.
I would say, based upon my reading, that the Romans may have tried to usurp the Christian holiday, rather than the other way around. Though, obviously, many later practices were incorporated — but this seems to have begun much later, centuries in some cases.
But why December 25th at all? It appears that in the Western tradition, Jesus was conceived on March 25th, and December 25th is nine months later. Eastern churches use April 6 for the conception date, so their birth of Jesus is celebrated on January 6th. The days in between are now called “the Twelve Days of Christmas.” Did you know where that came from?
[Edit] As Mary Catelli points out in the comments below, Jesus is assumed to have died on the same day of the year as the crucifixion — something common to both Eastern and Western church traditions.
While the rest of the subject matter is not entirely on point, 1 Corinthians 5 has a good advocation for us regarding Christmas — with even a flavor of New Year’s resolutions tucked in:
7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
In any event, a Merry Christmas to you all full of sincerity and truth, and Happy Hanukkah any other holiday or special occasion that brings you happiness. Since I am something of a technical geek, I hope that this Christmas image and a bit of my own humble poetry may serve as a virtual card.
Merry Christmas to all who observe
Even any or no faith will serve
For enjoying Yuletide
Is just what you decide
May you get everything you deserve
And of other faiths and celebrations
May they please those in rapt contemplations
Of the times of the past
May your bright future last
And be ready with fast demonstrations
There were challenges during the year
But so far, we have made it to here
May I say in this letter
Let next year be better!
May it bring peace and joy without fear
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle