December 25, 2010

Merry Me, Christmas

It's snowing right now, at this very moment.

I've never had a "White Christmas" before, but it looks like this year I'll finally get one (albeit a tad later in the day than one would typically hope for). What's really neat is that my newest little sister has never had a Christmas before (Her name is Caelyn, 7 years old- we adopted her from China just earlier this year, in January), and God decides to have it snow on her very first!

That is just too cool.

Caelyn has been so excited about today. For the past couple of weeks, she's been perpetually reminding the rest of the family that "Jesus' birthday, soon." It's been invigorating to watch her zeal for the season. And yeah, I know she doesn't actually grasp the concept of the thing (at all)- but that doesn't mean God can't use her to energize and encourage my own faith, and the faith of the rest of my family.

However, as endearing and well-meaning as Caelyn's declarations are, some of them are technically inaccurate. There are a myriad of myths in existence about Christmas (its traditions, about the season, about Jesus, etc.).

Let's take a look at a few of them, shall we?

Myth I: "Jesus was born on Christmas Day."
      Most people are already aware of this myth's existence (and invalidity), but I thought I would address it, nonetheless. The actual date of Jesus' birth is unknown (although many claim it to be in mid-to-late September); it is not recorded in the Bible. Ultimately, December 25th was chosen by the church, maybe even as early as 273 AD, as the day for the celebration. By the year 336 AD, we at least know, the Roman church calender shows record of a nativity celebration by Western Christians on the 25th of December.

Myth II: "The abbreviation 'X-mas' is a secular way to take 'Christ' out of 'Christmas.'"
     The word "Christ," which means "Messiah" or "Anointed One," is a Greek term. "X" actually stands for the Greek letter "chi"- equivalent to the first two letters in the English word "Christ." And it's been that way for many hundreds of years. Even Webster’s dictionary recognizes that the abbreviation "X" was commonly accepted for "X-mas", as well as "X-ian", by the middle of the sixteenth century. This tradition even originated in the heritage of the Church.

Myth III: "'Christmas' is a tradition with secular roots- therefore, Christians should not celebrate it."
     This is a more personal/subjective "myth," I think. But the fact remains that, no matter the ancient roots or reasons for the decision upon December 25th, we celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, during this time. That is a celebration that is present, not past. Moreover, the apostle Paul quoted popular Greek poets in the New Testament (Acts 17:28; I Corinthians 15:33; Titus 1:12)- why can we not also utilize that which is secular for that which is holy? (This goes for the entire tradition of the "Christmas Tree," as well.)

Myth IV: "There are more suicides during the holidays."
      Between late 1999 and early 2006, more than 40% of newspaper stories reporting on suicide (during the holidays) reinforced the myth that the holiday season led to a rise in the suicide rate. But, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, suicides are not more prevalent during the winter months. Their data actually reports that the overall number of suicides drops during the winter, and peaks during the spring and summer. See "this" NPR report for more information. (Different days of the week are actually shown to have more variation between them than any seasons do- with Monday as the most common day, and Saturday as the least common.)

Myth V:  "Three wise men visited newborn Jesus, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh."
     The Bible never states that there were "three" wise men. In Matthew 2, "wise men from the east" are mentioned, but their actual number is not described. The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, however, are mentioned, in Matt. 2:11. The reason so many people assume there were three wise men (and put three wise men in their nativity scenes- which doesn't even fit chronologically in the first place) is because there are three gifts mentioned. But we do not know the actual number of wise men in attendance.

Myth VI: "St. Nicholas lives at the North Pole."
     Actually, he does not. St. Nicholas lived in Myna, Turkey. And he died there too, a very long time ago. And guess what? There isn't a single record (historic or otherwise) of him breaking into houses and leaving surprises wrapped in festive paper for the members of the residing families... Who would have thought? Apparently, "Santa Clause" is just imaginary- like the "friends" that young and lonely children make up for themselves, to play with. (Hey, I was one of those kids, I can say that.)

Myth VII: "Jesus Christ came to bring peace on earth." 
     This is the biggest one of them all. Okay, let me explain what I mean before anyone spits at their computer screen. Did Jesus come to Earth so that He could enable us to commune with God, to save us from our inescapable sin, to establish true peace between Christians and His Father? Yes, absolutely- I would never contest those truths. But did He come to bring "peace" between those of humanity? I do not believe so. However, rather than try and defend that to you, I'm just going to quote Jesus' own words, found in the gospel of Matthew (10:34):

"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword."

Or, elsewhere (also stated by Jesus), in Luke 12:51-53:

"Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother..."

What do you make of that? Even in the first sentence- Jesus outright denies that He has come to give "peace on earth". ("I tell you, not at all...")

"Peace on earth"?

Is it not indicative of something that one of the most popular slogans of the Christmas season (for Christians and non-Christians, alike) is that same, exact phrase- the phrase that Jesus denies as His reason for coming to earth and, thereby, denies as the motive for His birth? (The very thing that "Christmas" is supposed to celebrate?)

... I don't know the answer to that, to be perfectly honest. I can't level such sweeping allegations against a culture and mindset that I am myself guilty of, that I have so long taken stock in.

But I do know this:

I believe (now) that Christmas is not a time to celebrate (or advocate) "peace on earth"- but peace between man and God, instead.

Christmas is (or should be) one of the most intense and vital battles of the whole year, in this "war" (not in aggression/violence, but in intensity/struggle) that we will be waging for the rest of our years here on this earth- the war against sin, the war against ignorance, the effort to reflect God's Truth and glory to the rest of the world, and, perhaps most importantly (for our age), the war against indifference.

I believe that, not because it is popular, but because I feel convicted that it is true.

What you believe is not up to me, at all.

It's up to you.


Lynn said...

Thank you for giving me more to ponder during the Christmas season. I love reading/listening to your thoughts. Miss you and love you bunches!!


jnash said...

Very good.

Maybe instead of coming to bring "peace on earth," Christ's coming was more of a war on the indifference you speak of.