THE MESSAGE NOW
Vol. 1, No. 25 – Monday, 26th December, 2016
(Mat.1, Isaiah.9:6-7, 12:1-6, Acts.2:42-47)
LIKE THE EARLY CHURCH, WHAT REALLY DOES CHRISTMAS MEAN TO THE CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN?
A very warm welcome to every one on this last Monday in 2016. Additionally, I say merry Christmas and happy boxing day to us all. You and I shall live to see many more of these days in the abundance of Christ’s spiritual and material blessings in Jesus name.
In this last edition of our weekly magazine: The Message Now in 2016, the search light focuses on Christmas.
There have been a number of arguments, counter-arguments, questions and counter-questions about the historical start of Christmas. Was Christ (the Son of God) born on the 25th day of December? How and why in the first place was this date arrived at? Are there dates suggested by scholars for the birth of the Lord? Should any of these dates and historical jagons matter in any instance at all?
Be prepared now dearly beloved because the lengthy historical accounts copied below will most likely be unfascinating to you. But there is nevertheless an obvious purpose. So, enlarge your reading appetite and read through to the end.
The earliest known Christian festivals were attempts to celebrate Jewish holidays, especially Passover, according to the local calendar. Modern scholars refer to such holidays as “Quartodecmials” because Passover is dated as 14 Nisan on the Jewish calendar. All the major events of the life of the Lord Jesus were celebrated in this festival, including his conception, birth, and passion.
In the Greek-speaking areas of the Roman Empire, the Macedonian calendar was used. In these areas, the Quartodecimal was celebrated on April 6. In Latin-speaking areas, the Quartodecimal was March 25. The significance of the Quartodecimal declined after 165, when Pope Soter moved celebration of the Resurrection to a Sunday, thereby creating Easter. This put celebration of the passion on Good Friday, and thus moved it away from the Quartodecimal.
The Christian ecclesiastical calendar contains many remnants of pre-Christian festivals. Although the dating as December 25 predates pagan influence, the later development of Christmas as a festival includes elements of the Roman feast of the Saturnalia and the birthday of Mithra as described in the Roman cult of Mithraism.
The question at this point is, how was the choice of December 25 date arrived at?
In the 3rd century, the date of the birth of the Lord Jesus was the subject of both great interest and great uncertainty. Around AD 200, Clement of Alexandria wrote:
‘There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of [the Egyptian month] Pachon [May 20] … And treating of His Passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the 16th year of Tiberius, on the 25th of Phamenoth [March 21]; and others on the 25th of Pharmuthi [April 21] and others say that on the 19th of Pharmuthi [April 15] the Savior suffered. Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi [April 20 or 21]’.
In other writings of this time, May 20, April 18 or 19, March 25, January 2, November 17, and November 20 are all suggested. Various factors contributed to the selection of December 25 as a date of celebration: it was the date of the winter solstice on the Roman calendar; it was about nine months after March 25, the date of the vernal equinox and a date linked to the conception of the lord Jesus; and it was the date of a Roman pagan festival in honor of the Sun god known as Sol Invictus.
What is Solstice in connection with the December 25 date? December 25 was the date of the winter solstice on the Roman calendar. It is strongly believed by some that the Lord Jesus chose to be born on the shortest day of the year for symbolic reasons, according to an early sermon by Augustine: “Hence it is that He was born on the day which is the shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. He, therefore, who bent low and lifted us up chose the shortest day, yet the one whence light begins to increase.”
Linking the Lord Jesus to the Sun was supported by various Biblical passages. For instance, the Lord was considered to be (and indeed is) the “Sun of righteousness” prophesied by Malachi see (Mal.4:2). John also describes him as “the light of the world” (see Jn.8:12).
Such solar symbolism could support more than one date of birth. An anonymous work known as De Pascha Computus linked the idea that creation began at the spring equinox, on March 25, with the conception or birth (the word nascor can mean either) of the Lord Jesus on March 28, the day of the creation of the sun in the Genesis account. One translation reads: “O the splendid and divine providence of the Lord, that on that day, the very day, on which the sun was made, the 28 March, a Wednesday, Christ should be born. For this reason Malachi the prophet, speaking about him to the people, fittingly said, ‘Unto you shall the sun of righteousness arise, and healing is in his wings.'”
In the 17th century, Isaac Newton argued that the date of Christmas was selected to correspond with the solstice.
According to Steven Hijmans of the University of Alberta, “It is cosmic symbolism … which inspired the Church leadership in Rome to elect the southern solstice, December 25, as the birthday of Christ, and the northern solstice as that of John the Baptist, supplemented by the equinoxes as their respective dates of conception.”
A number of other views suggest the birth of the Lord. In this connection, the Calculation Hypothesis plays a prominent role.
The Calculation hypothesis suggests that an earlier holiday held on March 25 became associated with the Incarnation. Modern scholars refer to this feast as the Quartodecimal. Christmas was then calculated as nine months later. The Calculation hypothesis was proposed by French writer, Louis Duchesne in 1889.
In modern times, March 25 is celebrated as Annunciation. This holiday was created in the seventh century and was assigned to a date that is nine months before Christmas, in addition to being the traditional date of the equinox. It is unrelated to the Quartodecimal, which had been forgotten by this time.
Early Christians celebrated the life of the Lord Jesus on a date considered equivalent to 14 Nisan (Passover) on the local calendar. Because Passover was held on the 14th day of the month, this feast is referred to as the Quartodecimal. All the major events of Christ’s life, especially the passion, were celebrated on this date. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul the Apostle mentions Passover, presumably celebrated according to the local calendar in Corinth.
Tertullian (A.D. 220), who lived in Latin-speaking North Africa, gives the date of celebration as March 25. In the East, which used the Macedonian calendar, the date of celebration was April 6th. The date of the passion was then moved to Good Friday in A.D. 165 when Pope Soter created Easter by reassigning the Resurrection to a Sunday.
According to the Calculation hypothesis, celebration of the quartodecimal continued in some areas and the feast became associated with Incarnation. While Christmas was nine months after March 25, Epiphany (January 6) was nine months after April 6th. Both Christmas and Epiphany have been widely celebrated as Christ’s date of birth. The Armenian Church continues to celebrate the birth of Jesus on Epiphany.
The Calculation hypothesis is considered academically to be “a thoroughly viable hypothesis”, though not certain. It was a traditional Jewish belief that great men lived a whole number of years, without fractions, so that the Lord Jesus was considered to have been conceived on March 25, as he died on March 25, which was calculated to have coincided with 14 Nisan.
A passage in Commentary on the Prophet Daniel by Hippolytus of Rome identifies December 25 as the date of the nativity. This passage is generally considered a late interpellation. The manuscript includes another passage, one that is more likely to be authentic, that gives the passion as March 25.
In A.D. 221, Sextus Julius Africanus (c. 160 – c. 240) gave March 25 as the day of creation and of the conception of the Lord Jesus in his universal history. This conclusion was argued based on March 25 as the date of the spring equinox. As this implies a birth in December, it is sometimes claimed to be the earliest identification of December 25 as the nativity. However, Africanus was not such an influential writer that it is likely he determined the date of Christmas. Why?
To start with, He wrote in Greek, and Christmas seems to have originated in a Latin-speaking area.
The tractate De solstitia et aequinoctia conceptionis et nativitatis Domini nostri Iesu Christi et Iohannis Baptistae, falsely attributed to John Chrysostom, also argued that the Lord Jesus was conceived and crucified on the same day of the year and calculated this as March 25.
This anonymous tract also states: “But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December … the eight before the calends of January [25 December] …, But they call it the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered’. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord…? Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice.”
Several other theorists and theories lay claim to the exactness of the time the Lord was born. One of such theories is the history of religions’ hypothesis. A handful of others include: the Aurelian’s dedication theory, the introduction of feast theory, etc. But do any of these theories and theorists with their ensuing arguments, counterarguments, questions and counter-question really matter afterall? Is it not sufficient that a Saviour was sent by God to redeem us? Agreed, the memory of the season of Christmas is such that is laden with joy. For the Christian, is this joy limited to a date in the year?
In my view, Christmas means the eternal celebration of the life and unequal service performed and still being performed by Christ. If Christmas is the unending celebration of Christ (as I strongly hold), or synonymous with the birth of the Lord (as myriads do accept) and is a season of joy (to all), then every day of the year is Christmas for the one who has accepted the Lord Jesus as His personal Lord and Saviour and who believes in His life, passion and service. Why?
The Holy Scriptures in Acts.2:47 reads: ‘Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord Added to the church daily such as should be saved’.
Please understand the spiritual connection in the foregoing Scripture. The early church were tenaciously active in soul-winning and evangelism. In return, the Lord added to the church. But there was a secret behind the early church’s success and the support they got from the Lord.
It was a church with a joyful heart of praise. Consistent praise to God out of a joyful heart triggers the most impossible and the most incredible to become a most astounding, miraculous reality. So then, one indispensable companion we must not fail to partner with throughout our Christian journey and indeed throughout 2017 is joyful heart in the Holy Ghost. In doing so, let every moment in 2017 be your Christmas moment. Why?
If for any reason, joyful moments automatically command and attract the presence of God. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin reminds that: ‘Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God’. How so true? And why not? To a most considerable extent, the battle ground from the enemy in 2017 will have its venue in the thoughts and in the dreams of so many. As such, it is a year that the mind must be fully busy, richly occupied by the word of God and be constantly filled with unwavering joy.
In one of today’s texts, the prophet Isaiah in chapter 12:2-3 resoundingly proclaimed: ‘Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; He is also is become my salvation. Therefore, with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation’.
Understand this, the prophet was expressing the mind of the Eternal One on joyfulness which is one of the most potent weapons for receiving the blessings of God. Fortunately, joyfulness is not only designed by God to attract divine blessings, it equally paves the way for others to be blessed because of its contagious character.
Thus it is a connecting stream which draws and refills every other in its path and company. As Lailah Gifty Akita opined in Pearls of Wisdom: Get Mind, ‘A joyful heart is an endless flowing stream’. Unfortunately, Joyfulness is oftentimes a matter of choice. In the new year therefore, I implore every one to choose a daily company with joy. You and I will be most blessed and others around us. With this, the chain of Christmas moments continues without an end.
Hymn: Hark Herald The Angel Sing
Give the Lord quality praise that you have never offered to Him any time before now.
Worship the Lord all over again.
Ask for grace to continually praise Him.
O God my father and the Saviour of my soul, let my season of celebration begin in earnest.
O God, with faith in you, I confess that my season of unlimited joy has begun, let it know no end, in the name of Jesus.
O sun and moon throughout 2017, you shall not hinder me but continually release favour to me.
In the name of Jesus, my greatest dream so far shall be fulfilled in 2017.
I speak to you, you year 2017, you shall not be as every other year I have experienced.
As the Lord lives and His Spirit lives, year 2017 shall be my best year so far.
I decree in the name of Jesus, I shall fly high over and above all obstacles in the new year.