What is Christmas for ? by Ted Robertson - December 2011
For centuries, Christian writers accepted that Christmas was the actual date on which Jesus was born. John Chrysostom preached a sermon in Antioch c. 386 which established the date of Christmas as December 25 on the Julian calendar since the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:26) had been announced during the sixth month of Elisabeth's pregnancy with John the Baptist (Luke 1:10-13) as dated from the duties Zacharias performed on the Day of Atonement during the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar Ethanim or Tishri (Lev. 16:29, 1 Kings 8:2) which falls in September–October. ( When was Christ Really Born? )
In the early 18th century, scholars began proposing alternative explanations. Isaac Newton argued that the date of Christmas was selected to correspond with the winter solstice, which the Romans called bruma and celebrated on December 25. In 1743, German Protestant Paul Ernst Jablonski argued Christmas was placed on December 25 to correspond with the Roman solar holiday Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and was therefore a "paganization" that debased the true church. In 1889, Louis Duchesne proposed that the date of Christmas was calculated as nine months after the Annunciation, the traditional date of the conception of Jesus, which itself was based on a traditional belief that he was conceived and crucified on the same date, 15 Nisan.
In the early 4th century, the church calendar contained Christmas on December 25 and other holidays placed on solar dates: "It is cosmic symbolism...which inspired the Church leadership in Rome to elect the winter solstice, December 25, as the birthday of Christ, and the summer solstice as that of John the Baptist, supplemented by the equinoxes as their respective dates of conception. While they were aware that pagans called this day the 'birthday' of Sol Invictus, this did not concern them and it did not play any role in their choice of date for Christmas," according to modern scholar S.E. Hijmans.
However, today, whether or not the birth date of Jesus is on December 25 is not considered to be an important issue among mainstream Christian denominations; rather, celebrating the coming of God into the world in the form of man to atone for the sins of humanity is considered to be the primary meaning of Christmas.
The Pen of Inspiration tells us that God withheld from us the true day of Christ's birth:
Christmas will soon be here. It is supposed that Christ was born on the 25th day of December, and for that reason it is celebrated as His birthday. But it is impossible for us to know upon what day He was born. You can know no more about that than the children of Israel could know where Moses was buried. The reason God has not revealed that fact is because you would have worshiped that day, as they would have worshiped the grave of Moses had they found it, and this is just what they have done with the day they supposed was the one on which Christ was born. – Manuscript Releases Volume Twenty-one [Nos. 1501-1598], Page 223.
And Christ came as one of us – to set an example for a sinless life.
The story of Bethlehem is an exhaustless theme. In it is hidden "the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God." Romans 11:33. We marvel at the Saviour's sacrifice in exchanging the throne of heaven for the manger, and the companionship of adoring angels for the beasts of the stall. Human pride and self-sufficiency stand rebuked in His presence. Yet this was but the beginning of His wonderful condescension. It would have been an almost infinite humiliation for the Son of God to take man's nature, even when Adam stood in his innocence in Eden. But Jesus accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin. Like every child of Adam He accepted the results of the working of the great law of heredity. What these results were is shown in the history of His earthly ancestors. He came with such a heredity to share our sorrows and temptations, and to give us the example of a sinless life. The Desire of Ages, Pages 48-49.
And it was with humble entry that the Son of God came among men; for men were not attentive even though they had been given plenty of signs.
With amazement the heavenly messengers beheld the indifference of that people whom God had called to communicate to the world the light of sacred truth. The Jewish nation had been preserved as a witness that Christ was to be born of the seed of Abraham and of David's line; yet they knew not that His coming was now at hand. In the temple the morning and the evening sacrifice daily pointed to the Lamb of God; yet even here was no preparation to receive Him. The priests and teachers of the nation knew not that the greatest event of the ages was about to take place. They rehearsed their meaningless prayers, and performed the rites of worship to be seen by men, but in their strife for riches and worldly honor they were not prepared for the revelation of the Messiah. The same indifference pervaded the land of Israel. Hearts selfish and world-engrossed were untouched by the joy that thrilled all heaven. Only a few were longing to behold the Unseen. To these heaven's embassy was sent.
Angels attend Joseph and Mary as they journey from their home in Nazareth to the city of David. The decree of imperial Rome for the enrollment of the peoples of her vast dominion has extended to the dwellers among the hills of Galilee. As in old time Cyrus was called to the throne of the world's empire that he might set free the captives of the Lord, so Caesar Augustus is made the agent for the fulfillment of God's purpose in bringing the mother of Jesus to Bethlehem. She is of the lineage of David, and the Son of David must be born in David's city. Out of Bethlehem, said the prophet, "shall He come forth . . . that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from the days of eternity." Micah 5:2, margin. But in the city of their royal line, Joseph and Mary are unrecognized and unhonored. Weary and homeless, they traverse the entire length of the narrow street, from the gate of the city to the eastern extremity of the town, vainly seeking a resting place for the night. There is no room for them at the crowded inn. In a rude building where the beasts are sheltered, they at last find refuge, and here the Redeemer of the world is born.
Men know it not, but the tidings fill heaven with rejoicing. With a deeper and more tender interest the holy beings from the world of light are drawn to the earth. The whole world is brighter for His presence. Above the hills of Bethlehem are gathered an innumerable throng of angels. They wait the signal to declare the glad news to the world. Had the leaders in Israel been true to their trust, they might have shared the joy of heralding the birth of Jesus. But now they are passed by. – The Desire of Ages, Pages 46-47.
Even at the end of His sojourn on Earth, Christ pointed to how He was the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament:
And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:27
Let us see what some of those Scriptures are:
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman'u-el. Isaiah 7:14
Matthew confirms that this is the true interpretation of this prophecy
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Imman'u-el, which being interpreted is, God with us. Matthew 1:18-23
But thou, Bethlehem Eph'ratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. Micah 5:2
Both Matthew and John confirm this interpretation
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Matthew 2:1-6
Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet.
Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?
Hath not the Scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?
So there was a division among the people because of him. And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him. John 7:40-44
There would be a killing of the innocents at the time of the Messiah's birth
Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. Jeremiah 31:15
This interpretation is confirmed by Matthew:
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.
Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Ramah was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. Matthew 2: 16-18
There are some 300 or so Messianic Prophecies in the Old Testament. And Jesus fulfilled most all of them. The ones that remain to be fulfilled will be done so at the Second Coming and in the creation of the New Earth.
And so there is no doubt as to what the purpose of the Messiah's coming to Earth is all about, let us review perhaps the most well known text in the Bible:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16
Sister White tells us:
God and Christ knew from the beginning, of the apostasy of Satan and of the fall of Adam through the deceptive power of the apostate. The plan of salvation was designed to redeem the fallen race, to give them another trial. Christ was appointed to the office of Mediator from the creation of God, set up from everlasting to be our substitute and surety. Before the world was made, it was arranged that the divinity of Christ should be enshrouded in humanity. “A body,” said Christ, “hast thou prepared me” (Hebrews 10:5). But He did not come in human form until the fullness of time had expired. Then He came to our world, a babe in Bethlehem. – Selected Messages Book 1, Page 250
So back to our question: what is Christmas for? It is for remembering the First Advent of Jesus Christ. It is to reflect on the wondrous gift of the Son of God come to this world to save men. And it would seem that from the Pen of Inspiration, Christmas should be every day:
The love of God is infinite, and yet the sinner could not be forgiven save through the plan of redemption that involved the shame, reproach, ignominy, and death of the Son of God. This fact should banish from reasoning minds the idea advanced by many who claim sanctification, that His death put an end to obedience to the law of God. We are to learn daily of the great plan of redemption, in the school of Christ. When we cease to learn, we cease to be pupils in Christ’s school. But if we are scholars under the divine Master, our understanding will be opened, and we shall learn wondrous things out of God’s law. – Selected Messages Book 1, Page 312.
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