Friday, December 31, 2010

Word of the Week for January 2010 week 1

 Word of the Week January week 1

Krippe2Image via WikipediaWho’s Lying about Christian Holidays?
I have heard “Winter Solstice” so many times this Christmas Season it makes me sick. We have artificial “Holiday” programs that avoid everything to do with Jesus Christ. How did it get this way? Why does it seem so many, even in our own local communities and schools, are so concerned about offending people who don’t live here? And why do they have to show their so-called “concern” by slamming and offending Christ and Christians?

The main Christian Holy-days that are run over today are Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Ash Wednesday, and Hallow E’en (All Saint’s Eve’). So in this series of articles for Word of the Week we are going to look into the actual history of these holidays or Holy Days. There are more Holy Days that could be listed: All Souls Day, The Annunciation, St. John’s Day, Holy Innocents, and so many, many more. But I think that we can start to understand what has happened by looking at these five holidays that have been significantly changed by the culture around us.

Let us start with “Winter Solstice” or Christmas. It is ironic that there is already enough information available to anyone who cares to discover the truth about Christmas. But the Politically Correct way we are told to understand Christmas is that the Romans celebrated the “rebirth of the sun” on December 25th. Then, Christianity (especially the Roman Catholic Church) wanted to eliminate the pagan elements and claimed that Christ was born on this same day to pervert the pagan holiday into a Christian Holy Day.

Just in this past December a scholar from Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, Australia, named Andrew McGowan wrote an article for the magazine Biblical Archaeology Review on this very topic. The article is very helpful because the author went to the original writings. So we will do the same.

Three main questions: 1) When did the Romans celebrate the winter solstice? 2) When did the earliest Christians celebrate Christmas? 3) And when was Christmas associated with the pagan holiday of the winter solstice?

Question 1) So, when did the Romans celebrate the winter solstice? It was the shortest day of the year, in our calendar, December 21 or 22. The Romans didn’t use our modern calendar. And several of the Roman emperors added months and days to their official year to honor one emperor or another. The origins of our modern calendar date several centuries after the birth of Christ.

The main point of this calendar mess is that even with the calendar reforms of Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. the winter solstice hardly ever occurred on December 25. The months were for watching the Moon. The winter solstice would occur on a different day each year because it was based on the Sun.

It is important for us to notice that none of the early Christian writers pointed to the winter solstice as an important religious date. And it is just as important to notice that those early Christian writers wrote that Christ was conceived on what is March 25th in our modern calendar. Nine months later is December 25th.

The winter solstice was not an issue for the Christians of the first four centuries in our calendar. Christ’s conception and birth was. December 25th was celebrated in the early church because it was nine months after Christ’s conception.

2) So, we have begun to answer the question: When did the earliest Christians celebrate Christmas? Scholars in the late 1800s began to confuse this question, even though Christians all around them celebrated on the days had been handed down as tradition everywhere around them. The tradition to celebrate Christmas on those days was almost one thousand nineteen hundred years old when these scholars began questioning it.

It is possible for traditions to become confused and changed. It only takes one or two generations for this to happen in a small area, like Grygla. But this tradition was spread all across Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. And the tradition was consistent. There was a difference between the Eastern Orthodox Christians and the Western Christians on which day should be emphasized. Should the Christian Church primarily celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th, when His birth was announced to the people of Israel, or on January 6th when the Gentile Wise men, or Magoi, visited him. Both days are celebrated in the Eastern and the Western Church. And both days were based on the early Church figuring from Scripture that Jesus was conceived in the Spring of the year at the time of the full moon of Passover.

Around the year 200 A.D. the Church Father Hippolytus in his Commentary on Daniel 4.23.3 says:

“For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, eight days before the kalends of January [December 25th], the 4th day of the week [Wednesday], while Augustus was in his forty-second year, [2 or 3BC]”

Clement of Alexandria, who wrote 193-215 AD, in his work entitled “Stromata” writes:

“From the birth of Christ, therefore, to the death of Commodus are, in all, 194 years, 1 month, 13 days. And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Savior’s genesis, but even the day, which they say took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus on the 25th of Pachon…”

Christ’s genesis, or conception on the 25th of Pachon was in what our calendar would equate with March 25th. The celebration of Christ’s birth would be nine months later: December 25th, in our calendar.

I want to emphasize that I’m not trying to pin down which day Christ was actually born, but to point out when the earliest Christians actually celebrated the birth of Christ. I am also showing that the choice of that date had nothing to do with any pagan celebration of the winter solstice in Rome.

It was not until much much later that scholars and others would begin to claim that Christians tried to mingle the celebration of Christ’s birth with the celebration of the winter solstice.

3) So we come to the question: When was Christmas associated with the pagan holiday of the winter solstice?

In the 18th and 19th centuries some scholars found a manuscript from the 12th century in a marginal note of the writings of the Syriac biblical commentator Dionysius bar-Salibi conjectured that in ancient times the Christmas holiday was actually shifted from January 6 to December 25 so that it fell on the same date as the pagan winter solstice.

We must remember what was happening in Bible scholarship at that time. During this period many unbelieving academics were trying to show how Christianity evolved out of pagan religions. They reasoned that Christianity--as they thought of it--was the highest evolved religion. They had no written evidence; they had no material evidence. But they seized upon this marginal note of Dionysius who noticed that the dates were close together and conjectured that the dates could be related.

Dionysius did not understand why January 6th was chosen nor did he understand why December 25th was chosen. He just wrote what he thought. From that conjecture a great number of unbelieving academics have woven a fictionalized “history” of Christmas and it’s relationship to the pagan winter solstice.

Neo-paganism reared its head in the late 1960s in Europe and the United States. And the myth of the winter solstice being the source of Christmas has been preached from college professor to four generations of students trying to comply so they could earn their degrees.

Now, even listening to the local radio stations and their little segments on the “history of the holidays” one hears this fictional tripe.

But in point of fact, December 25th was chosen by the Church to celebrate Christ’s birth long before any interest in pagan Roman festivals was ever reborn. December 25th as the Birth and January 6th as the Epiphany of our Lord have been celebrated by the Christian Church since the earliest times. While there were other dates that were proposed in the early Church, by the year 350 these dates were pretty much agreed upon as the celebration dates for these feasts.

Christmas is not a pagan holiday. December 25th is not a day stolen by the Christian Church from pagans. It is the day nine months after the early Christians understood when Christ was conceived according to Scripture.
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Friday, December 10, 2010

Word of the Week for Dec 11th, 2010

Nativity sceneImage via WikipediaStill No Room...
And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths,
 and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.(Luke 2:7)

It seems that each Christmas many of us grumble about the pressure to remove Christ from the “Holidays” with just saying “season’s greetings.” 

Really, Christians should expect nothing else from the world. That doesn’t mean an individual, congregation, or community can’t go against the grain by proclaiming the birth of Christ publicly. It just means that the world hates Christ and will do whatever it can to get rid of Him or distort who He really is and what He really did.

John’s Gospel speaks of how the world received Christ:

10 He was in the world,
and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.
11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God,
to those who believe in His name:
13 who were born, not of blood,
 nor of the will of the flesh,
nor of the will of man,
but of God. 
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we beheld His glory,
the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,
full of grace and truth.
” (John 1:10-14)

The world He created did not recognize Him when He came to earth. His own did not receive Him. But there are those who receive Him by faith, not by biology, not by decision, not by choice of will, but born of God through faith in Christ, “to those who believed in His name.” 

The reception for the Christ was poor. No bed, no room, no house. There was no place to welcome the King of creation. Just a dirty stable with the stink of animals and a feeding trough for a cradle. 

As soon as King Herod found out about the birth he tried to have Jesus killed. What a welcome. Christ became a fugitive from the powers of the world. 

When He began His earthly ministry at age 30 people were still trying to destroy Him. Remember Christ raising Lazarus from the dead? What a wonderful and clear fulfillment of prophecy. There could be no doubt who this Jesus of Nazareth really is. True, many were following Him.

But what was the reaction of the authorities to this miracle? John records in chapter 11:

45 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. 48 If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”
49 And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.
53 Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.

And the night He was betrayed Christ prayed the following in John 17:

“14 I have given them Your word;
and the world has hated them because they are not of the world,
 just as I am not of the world.
15 I do not pray that You should take them out of the world,
but that You should keep them from the evil one.
16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
17 Sanctify them by Your truth.
Your word is truth.
18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
19 And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.”

The world hates Christ, it hates Christmas, it hates Christians. That hatred is obvious when someone desecrates a church or a Christian symbol--like the art recently displayed at the Smithsonian museum.
But that hatred of Christ and His saving word, the hatred of Christmas and the message of God’s love for the world in Christ comes in more subtle ways as well. 

The most basic is the neglect of God’s Word. “Sanctify them by the truth, Your Word is truth,” Christ prayed. It’s not just church bodies which change from the clear Word of God in obvious ways, it is also those who just don’t want to be “offensive” in this world. Those of us who would rather avoid feeling strange and like we don’t fit in. We want to fit in and get along. 

Christ doesn’t want us to fit in, He wants us to be set apart from the world by what the Bible teaches--not in a sanctimonious and self-righteous way. We are to be humble, admit our sin, and believe the forgiveness Christ has declared to us. We are to proclaim the message of the forgiveness of sins, relying on God’s promise through the Word and Sacraments and not on what the world would have us do.

Paul described Christ’s humility this way in his letter to the Philippians chapter 2:

“5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,
7 but made Himself of no reputation,
taking the form of a bondservant,
and coming in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death,
 even the death of the cross.
9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him
and given Him the name which is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
of those in heaven,
and of those on earth,
and of those under the earth,
11 and that every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

Christ came as a child to serve, to teach, and to give His life in our place. That’s who we worship when we look at the manger. The manger is special and glorious not because of being part of a pretty Christmas scene. The manger is a dirty and low place, a humiliating place to put a child. The manger is glorious because of who was placed in it. That baby is the Creator, the Judge, the King of Glory. 

The stable in our nativity sets is not merely a pretty decoration, it is a reminder of the abject poverty of Christ and the world’s rejection of Him even at His birth. “There was no room for them at the inn.” They couldn’t buy out another person. The stable is glorious because of who it is that was born there that night two thousand years ago. 

And in the eyes of the Heavenly Father, all those who believe in Christ are also glorious. This is not because believers are good people or better than anyone else. Quite the opposite, it is because Christ has given them His Holy Spirit and dwells in Christians. For it is not just the world and His own that rejected Him, our own flesh rejects Him as well. But He has conquered. He has served. He has clothed all believers in His righteousness through His Word and the water of Baptism. And it is through faith in Christ in His Word alone that any have salvation.

That’s why the world hates Christmas, Christ, and Christians. That’s why the world doesn’t want the truth of Christ to be talked about in any public forum. And that’s why our own cowardly flesh shrinks away from reading the Bible every day. 

Do you want to put “Christ” back into Christmas? Read the Bible. Not just at Christmas, but every day. Confess your sins and believe in the forgiveness Christ declares to you in the Gospel. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to give faith in Christ. And giving forgiveness and faith, He also gives the resurrection. That is the real gift given to the world at Christmas. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Blessed Christmas to you all.
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