It’s no secret that Christmas falls during the month of December.
What isn’t as clear is the reason why.
“That’s easy,” one might reply. “It’s when Jesus was born.”
Actually, it wasn’t.
Most biblical historians place Jesus’s birth around either October(ish) or April(ish). They argue that shepherds would not have been out in the fields with their sheep in the dead of winter. It would have been far too cold, especially at night. (Fun fact: Christ likely wasn’t born in the year 0 AD either. Because of some miscalculations in the Gregorian calendar, he was probably born sometime between 3 to 5 BC.)
Secularists–and particularly militant atheists–enjoy rubbing that little detail into the face of unsuspecting Christians before adding, with gleeful snark, that the whole Christmas holiday is based on a pagan holiday filled with drunken debauchery, which is true.
To a point.
But the deconstruction of the Christmas narrative into a bunch of uncomfortable half-truths in no way minimizes the power of the Incarnation.
The decision by the early church to set the celebration of Jesus’s birth on December 25 was intentional.
Celebrating his birth on this date is not an attempt to deceive the masses about the actual date it happened, any more than is celebating his resurrection on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. It’s merely a date for global body of Christ to celebrate as one.
And–gasp!—Resurrection Sunday was also around the time of pagan holidays.
So why did the early church set the celebration of Jesus’s birth on December 25th? The answer is quite enlightening (pun very much intended).
With the shortest days of the year, December is shrouded in darkness more than any other month (at least in the northern hemisphere–the early church’s known world at the time). December can seem downright depressing. Further, the month also contains a solitary annual event: the winter solstice.
The winter solstice is the day the earth’s northern hemisphere is tilted furthest away from the sun, marking the official first day of winter. It is also the day considered the shortest of the year, with the northern-tier states of the US getting only about eight to nine hours of daylight, decreasing as one goes further north. People in northern Canada and Alaska receive only a few hours of light a day, and must hunker in for the cold, depressing darkness of winter.
However, though that solstice marks the shortest, darkest day of the year, it also marks the point after which the days begin to grow longer.
In other words, light is entering into the world.
Following the winter solstice by only a few days, December 25 marks both the coming of more daylight to dispel our physical darkness, and the coming of the Light of the World who dispels our spiritual darkness.
It feels like the two years following the whole COVID mess have been spiritually dark. It’s like our nation–in fact, the whole world–has been stumbling along, trying to regain our sense of equilibrium. We’re assessing the damage of lockdowns, individually and relationally. We suffered through another election which grows uglier by the year. We now accept lies as truth for no other reason than it’s “our guy” telling them.
Students are woefully behind on their level of studies from where they should be. Many of us who have been able to get by are now living paycheck to paycheck, draining our savings and running credit card balances in order to stay afloat while being told by the highest authorities that everything is peachy. Just this month, there have been mass shootings in both a gay club and a Walmart as well as a brutal quadruple homicide of four college kids while they slept.
We no longer believe anything from our media, government, and academic institutions. And every day, that level of mistrust grows progressively worse. Institutions we normally trust to fix things are themselves broken.
Nothing makes sense. When institutions we should trust are telling us things totally out of line with the reality around us, uncertainty prevails. And with no truth to stabilize, darkness saturates.
There is no solution.
The dark reality Jesus entered into the first time is the same reality now.
We don’t need Christmas in spring or summer, when all is warm and bright. But we do need it in the darkest time of the year. Why do you think the most dominant decoration is the light?
As we enter into the Christmas 2022 season, don’t wait to start the season until you feel “festive.” That is the way the world does it, trying to drum up emotions and then falling even deeper into depression and darkness.
That is also putting the cart before the horse.
Acknowledge the Christmas season from within the darkness around you. Let the brilliance of Christmas trees and lights remind you that the true Light of the world has come and will come again.
Yes, it’s dark. But Christmas is the reminder that Emmanuel has come.
And the days will start growing longer.