My recent articles have been on the subject of Christmas. In the first of this series I set forth a case to remind those who have been desperately trying to sanitize the holiday of its Christian meaning, the fact that were it not for the coming of Christ there would be no celebration at Christmas time.
Even Santa himself has his roots in the historical Saint Nicholas even though our modern concept of this jolly old elf was a product of the famous Christmas poem, "The Night before Christmas." Published anonymously, it was first printed in the New York Sentinal on Dec. 23, 1823. It was from this poem that our modern western view of Santa Claus arose. That being said, the fact remains that the concept began with a very real Saint Nicholas.
In my last article we shifted our discussion to whether or not believers should celebrate Christmas, some contending that the day has its roots in a pagan holiday and, therefore, should not be observed by Christians today. I pointed out in that article that one theory is that the church chose this day in an effort to make Christianity meaningful in pagan lands. The celebration of the birth of the son replacing the celebration of the rebirth of the sun. So successful was this move by the fourth century church that one has to look long and hard to discover the pagan roots that some would have us avoid today.
However, as I pointed out in both of my recent articles, we have evidence of Christians celebrating the birth of the Savior as early as 200 A.D., and Dec. 25 mentioned as the day of celebration as early as 212 A.D. It is highly unlikely that at this early date the roots of our celebration rested in paganism.
It is equally unlikely at such an early date that this date was chosen by these early Christians as a means of evangelizing pagans who worshiped the sun. I think we must look elsewhere to find the roots of this holiday. I don't think we have to look far, and I think that what we find should ease the mind of some of the more legalistic brethren who somehow fear that modern believers will be tainted if they celebrate this holiday.
The Jewish celebration that very closely coincides with our Christmas is Hanukkah (Chanukah). Hanukkah is the Jewish celebration known as the Festival of Lights. It's most notable symbol is the eight candle menorah. Hanukkah is an eight day celebration that commemorates the Jewish victory over Seleucid (Greek) rule, a small struggling country overcoming a world-power. It is a festival of lights because it symbolizes the victory of light over darkness. The lighted menorah is a reminder that after the Hasmonians drove the Greeks from the land, they reclaimed and rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Upon entering the temple, they found only one small jar of oil that had not been corrupted by the Greeks. They didn't expect it to last, but it lasted eight days while pure oil could be made. Thus the meaning of the menorah and the celebration. Hanukkah begins on the eve of the 25 day of Kislev in the Jewish calendar.
Let us not forget that modern Christianity has its roots in Judaism. Without God's chosen people, the Messiah's people, Christianity would not exist. The earliest followers of Christ were all Jews; in fact in our infancy, the followers of Christ, were known as followers of the Way and were seen as a sect of Judaism. Indeed the issue before the very first church council was to discuss if converts had to become Jews before they could become Christians (See Acts 15).
With that in mind, and given the fact that we have relatively early witness for Dec. 25 being the day the earliest believers commemorated the birth of the Light of the World (one of the titles Jesus used of himself), I think it is most probable that the birthday of the king has its roots in the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, as these early followers of Christ celebrated the light that had come into the world (John 1:6-14; 3:19-21).
Wherever the roots of this celebration lay, the truth of the matter is, for at least 16 centuries, Christmas has been about Jesus. The Bible says, "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"-which means, "God with us"" (Matthew 1:21-23, NIV).
So, enjoy the holiday and a very merry Christmas to you all.
Dr. John Pearrellcan be reached at email@example.com