Christmas Eve Then and Now
Today is December 24. This is Christmas Eve, the day before Christmas. But is this really the day before Jesus was born in Bethlehem? Each year the question comes up and each year the answer is the same: We can’t be sure.
The Bible does not clearly answer this question. Evidently the first Christians didn’t make a point of celebrating the birth of Christ. If they knew the precise date of his birth, they didn’t make an issue of it. One writer notes that various leaders in the early church suggested the following dates for Jesus’ birth: January 2, January 6, March 21, March 25, April 18, April 19, May 20, May 28, November 17. All we can take from this is that the precise date was hidden and unknown to them even though they were much closer to the historical event than we are.
The traditional date of December 25 goes back as far as A.D. 273. Two pagan festivals honoring the sun were also celebrated on that day and it is possible that December 25 was chosen to counteract the influence of paganism. To this day some people feel uncomfortable with Christmas because they think it is somehow tainted by the pagan festivals held on that day. But Christians have long believed that the gospel not only transcends culture, it also transforms it. In A.D. 320 one theologian answered this criticism by noting, “We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of him who made it.”
Having said that, you may ask, “Does it really matter?” In one sense, of course, the answer is no. No doctrine of the Christian faith rests upon knowing the exact day and year of Christ’s birth. And no stress is put upon the date of his birth in the New Testament. No one is ever told to celebrate Christmas. The emphasis always rests on the fact of his birth, not the date. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Christianity is a faith based on certain historical facts. Let us on this Christmas Eve rejoice in this great truth:
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).
On that day so long ago, a very real day in a very real year-even if we can’t pinpoint it exactly-the eternal Son of God entered humanity, the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us-God himself joined the human race!
It happened, it really happened. On December 25 we celebrate the very real birth of a very real Savior whose name is Jesus Christ. Let the party begin! Break out the cider, open the presents, sing the carols, hug a friend. We ought to be happiest people in the world. We were born for Christmas because on Christmas Christ was born for us.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Welcome to our world, Lord Jesus! May there always be room in my heart for you. Amen.