Point of Reference
by Fred Price
Don’t you just love this time of year? The family get-togethers, exchanging gifts, playing in the snow and caroling. Even the charitable contributions we make to the food and gift drives for the less fortunate warm our hearts as we express genuine concern for others. (The Christmas season opening our eyes to the opportunities for being a blessing to the needy around us like no other.) Yet in making new memories and remembering old times together, let’s not forget what’s really important. Think back with me for a moment and...remember.
A cool starry night – a quaint little stable on the outskirts of town. As we peek through the front entry-way we can see the mistletoe still hanging where Joseph strategically placed it in anticipation of sneaking a kiss with Mary as she bustled about preparing the ham, turkey, potatoes, beans, and pecan pie. Tacked up around the single little window over-looking the pasture are fragrant holly sprigs, giving the stable an earthy smell as it mingles with the aroma of hay, grain, and well, you know, “fertilizer.” Later, as Joseph sleeps off his big meal, Mary lifts the fussy Jesus from the antiqued manger crib and prepares to feed him by the light of the bulbs on the Christmas tree standing in the corner between the cattle and sheep stalls.
To her surprise, visitors come knocking, looking for any left-over food that might be available and a moment of warmth out of the elements as they take a break from watching their sheep. Besides, they were all so confused. Was that a falling star? An angel? Or a fat, jolly old elf in the skies a short while ago? Then, to her astonishment, three very wealthy men paid a visit as well, bringing gifts; which were added to the others already under the tree. And then, as baby Jesus finally went back to sleep and Mary herself began to nod off...Does she hear something? Yes! Angels singing her favorite carols as Santa Claus streaks across the sky exclaiming, “Unto you a child is born!” Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
What? That’s not right, is it? Sadly, many today, even in the church, might have a hard time distinguishing between what is right and wrong with this “memory.” New, contemporary images and re-interpretations of Christmas have crept in and made it very difficult for us to tell the difference between fact and fiction. It hasn’t happened overnight but gradually, as almost all change does. Many times we don’t recognize it until it’s too late. But these images can and do change our vision of Christ’s miraculous birth and His purpose in coming.
Dec. 25 – Christ’s Mass, was set aside as a Holy Day to celebrate the virgin birth of Jesus Christ; God’s miraculous intervention in the affairs of men through His Son, the starting point of our acknowledgment of a miraculous life and ministry. But the celebration has become filled with elements of myth, commercialization, cartoon characters and even paganism.
For instance, the date set for Christmas in the fourth century coincided with the German celebration of the winter solstice. Holly, some of which is a stimulant when made into a drink, is associated with Christmas today primarily as decoration because of its evergreen properties; always alive. Mistletoe was thought by the ancient Druids to have magical powers and was used as a cure for infertility. (Thus the kissing under it?) The Christmas tree, again ever green; was first used by the Germans and called a paradise tree, symbolizing Eden. It wasn’t until about the 17th century that the French began using it in their Christmas observances from where it spread throughout the rest of Europe and finally crossed the channel into England in the 1840’s; from there it was brought to the U.S. Gift-giving, in part based on the Magi’s generosity, became a focal point for the Dutch in their celebration of Christmas. A St. Nickolas Day, celebrated on Dec. 6, preceded by St. Nickolas Eve with gift-giving, evolved from their tradition of a patron saint of children whose name was, of course, Nicholas. Consequently a Dutch man, Sint Nikolaas, patterned his life after this tradition; generously making and distributing gifts to the children of his village. The British incorporating this custom into their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations as well.
A third Nicholas, who finally became the Catholic Church’s official patron Saint of Christmas, was born in the third century to Christian parents in Asia Minor. A very busy man of faith and highly acclaimed by the church throughout Europe, Asia Minor, and Russia; he none-the-less is remembered in America (if at all) by his association with Christmas. The connection stems from a noble deed attributed to him in the aid he provided three young women, who were about to be sold into servitude by their father because of the family’s overwhelming poverty. Nicholas secretly deposited three bags of gold in their home, rescuing the family from poverty and the three sisters from slavery; his anonymous gift becoming associated with the example of gift-giving set by the three wise men shortly after Christ’s birth. Combine all of these, along with any of your own personal observances and you have the Holiday of Christmas and the character of Santa Claus.
Now let me hasten to say that I don’t believe there is anything wrong with celebrating Christmas; having a tree, exchanging gifts, going to Christmas parties and family get-togethers – as long as we realize the danger of buying too much, traveling too often, partying too hard, and forgetting the true reason for this season, which is JESUS CHRIST. We must understand that for the most part, people really have gone from seeing this as a Holy Day to a Holiday. The emphasis being changed from Christ’s Mass to Christmas to X-Mas, as many don’t have time – or the inclination – to honor Christ on His birthday anymore! (And God forbid Christmas should fall on Sunday – as it does occasionally – when many churches cancel their worship services to accommodate their congregation’s secular celebration!)
Yet we can have a Merry Christmas and hope for a Happy New Year specifically because of what was announced those many years ago, “....behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10,11
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Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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