Christmas Musings

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Jn 1:1-5

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” Jn 1:9-10

Christmas, celebrates the birth of Jesus, the TRUE LIGHT that gives light to everyone.  More particularly, Christmas celebrates the coming of  that which is the Sacred Good, the Infinitely Divine to earth in the form of a human, a Hebrew baby who was named Yeshua ben Yosef, known to most Christians as Jesus Christ.

Most people believe that Jesus was born on December 25 and that the Christmas story is a factual account of that event. Actually, scripture scholars have concluded that the gospel writers or authors knew nothing about Jesus’ birth other than the obvious fact that his parents were Joseph and Mary and that he lived in Nazareth and was most likely a carpenter. Jesus is identified as “the carpenter’s son” (Matt. 13:55) and “the carpenter” (Mark 6:3).  In these references to Jesus as a carpenter or the son of one, the Greek word used both times is more correctly translated as “craftsman” or “artisan.” In those days and in that culture, sons usually became an apprentice to their fathers.

So, why December 25th for the date of Jesus’ birth? It is a conjecture based on the assumption that the church in Rome began formally celebrating Christmas on December 25 in 336, during the reign of the emperor Constantine. As Constantine had made Christianity the effective religion of the empire, some have speculated that choosing this date had the political motive of weakening the established pagan celebrations. The date, December 25 is further explained below.

The English word “Christmas” is a shortened form of “Christ’s Mass”. The word is recorded as Crīstesmæsse in 1038 and Cristes-messe in 1131. (Martindale, Cyril Charles (1908). “Christmas”. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

“The form Christenmas was also used during some periods, but is now considered archaic and dialectal.The term derives from Middle English Cristenmasse, meaning “Christian mass”Xmas is an abbreviation of Christmas found particularly in print, based on the initial letter chi (Χ) in Greek Khrīstos (Χριστός) (“Christ”), although some style guides discourage its use. This abbreviation has precedent in Middle English Χρ̄es masse (where “Χρ̄” is an abbreviation for Χριστός) ” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas#Etymology

Back to the stories of Jesus’ birth. I say stories because the traditional account that we usually hear or read is actually a combination of two stories: Matthew 1.18–2.23 and Luke 1.26–2.52,  The other two canonical gospels, Mark and John, add some information about Jesus’ home life, but nothing about his birth. Here’s how the gospel stories compare.

EpisodeMatthewLuke
Reign of Herod or Archelaus: Angel visits Mary (the Annunciation). 1.26–38
Mary visits Elizabeth; birth of John the Baptist. 1.39–80
Reign of Herod: Engagement of Joseph and Mary; Joseph plans to end engagement because of pregnancy.1.18–19 
Angel visits Joseph in dream, tells him to go ahead with marriage.1.20–25 
(Fulfilment of prophecy: Isaiah 7.14.)1.22–23 
Governorship of Quirinius: Quirinius conducts a census. 2.1–2
Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem. 2.3–5
Birth of Jesus; no room at the inn. 2.6–7
The shepherds hear the news and visit family in Bethlehem. 2.8–20
Circumcision of Jesus. 2.21
Family stops off in Jerusalem to present Jesus at temple; episode of Simeon and Anna. 2.22–38
Reign of Herod: Magi visit Herod in Jerusalem.2.1–7 
(Fulfilment of prophecy: LXX Micah 5.1, LXX II Kings 5.2.)2.5–6 
Magoi go to Bethlehem, offer gifts, then return home without visiting Herod.2.8–12 
Angel visits Joseph in dream to warn him of Herod’s rage; family flees to Egypt.2.13–15 
(Fulfilment of prophecy: Hosea 11.1.)2.15 
Herod’s rage: massacre of the innocents.2.16–18 
(Fulfilment of prophecy: LXX Jeremiah 38.15.)2.17–18 
Reign of Archelaus: family returns from Egypt after Herod’s death.2.19–21 
Family doesn’t return home to Judaea, for fear of Archelaus, but instead goes to Nazareth in Galilee (since Galilee was no longer under Jerusalem’s control).2.22–23 
Governorship of Quirinius: Family carries on home to Nazareth. 2.39–40

Both gospels give patrilineal genealogies that make Joseph a descendant of king David (Matthew 1.1–17Luke 3.23–38). But the genealogies are totally different. If they’re both true, then Joseph had two fathers. More information and interpretations of the inclusions of the “three Wise Men”, shepherds, Herod and the census and “killing of newborns” can be found in many scholarly works such as the following:

  • Brown, R. E. 1993 [1977]. The birth of the Messiah. A commentary on the infancy narratives in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, updated edition. Doubleday.
  • Elliott, J. K. 1993. The apocryphal New Testament. A collection of apocryphal Christian literature in an English translation. Clarendon Press. (Protevangelium of James at 46–67)

Rather than comment about the significance and meaning of the gospel stories, I present the following thoughts offered by several different people.

Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weaknesses and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself if you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do these things for a day? Then you are ready to keep Christmas!
― Henry van Dyke

Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.
― G.K. Chesterton

Christ always seeks the straw of the most desolate cribs to make his Bethlehem.
― Thomas Merton

Christmas is God lighting a candle; and you don’t light a candle in a room that’s already full of sunlight. You light a candle in a room that’s so murky that the candle, when lit, reveals just how bad things really are.
― N.T. Wright

Let him into the mire and muck of our world. For only if we let him in can he pull us out.
― Max Lucado

As I read the birth stories about Jesus I cannot help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich and powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog.
― Philip Yancey

God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. ~Bonhoeffer”] At this Christmas when Christ comes, will He find a warm heart? Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.
― Mother Teresa

Any one thinking of the Holy Child as born in December would mean by it exactly what we mean by it; that Christ is not merely a summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate.
― G.K. Chesterton

But when finally the scrolls of history are complete, down to the last word of time, the saddest line of all will be: “There was no room in the inn.”…The inn was the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world’s moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But there’s no room in the place where the world gathers. The stable is a place for outcasts, the ignored and the forgotten. The world might have expected the Son of God to be born in an inn; a stable would certainly be the last place in the world where one would look for him. The lesson is: divinity is always where you least expect to find it. So the Son of God made man is invited to enter into his own world through a back door. 

—-Archbishop Fulton Sheen

 “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

About Dr. Ernie Sherretta, D. Min.

Retired Director of Religious Education for the Catholic Church since 2014, granted a B.A. in Philosophy from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Religious Studies from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Immaculata University, and a Doctor of Ministry from the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Spiritual Well-Being Counselor
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