Saturday, December 24, 2011
The True Spirit Of Christmas (According To Doug B)
I thought I would add a qualifier to my post title. After all, ask a dozen people what the true meaning of Christmas is and you will get roughly twelve different answers (even if some of those are somewhat similar).
Christmas, properly speaking, is undeniably a Christian holiday, which literally means Christ's mass or The Mass of Christ. Now over time Santa has rivaled Jesus, son of Joseph, as a Christmas symbol. That isn't as nefarious as it might seem at first thought. Santa Claus is a gradual corruption of Saint Nicholas (by way of the Dutch, I believe). Nicholas, you probably know, was a Christian bishop of the fourth century fondly remembered for his secret giving of gifts, a not inappropriate emblem of Christian kindness and charity.
If over time the Christianity of Saint Nick (or Santa Claus) got somewhat lost in the shuffle, especially among the less devout, the celebration of the birth of Jesus was never overlooked by the faithful, except perhaps for a while by the Puritans, who overlooked a lot of the pleasures of life.
But Charles Schultz, in his still popular A Charlie Brown Christmas, reemphasized the general Christian feeling about the significance of the birth of Jesus, the Christ, as the character Linus read to his little friends the following words from the Gospel of Luke:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:8-14)
There was a movement among the first century Jews that recognized in Jesus the Messianic hope of their people. They hoped at long last he was the promised savior, or deliverer, who would restore the Jewish people to their former glory and initiate a righteous kingdom that not only would bless the Jewish people, but would be a light unto the Gentiles, who would flow into Jerusalem to learn the true ways of God.
Well, that was the way it was supposed to work out. It didn't, or hasn't yet. The Jewish people still await their Messiah (whom they don't think was Jesus) and the Christian followers of Jesus await his return to earth to set things right.
The key here, I think, is that word hope. Peace on earth and good will toward men has not been widely achieved on the earth, but we all cherish the hope that one day human nature can be reformed to the extent that that becomes the rule rather than the exception.
Now I will reflect just a bit on what history buffs already know. There was a "reason for the season" before the birth of Jesus, called the Christ, around 2,000 years ago. The Romans had their Sol Invictus, or cult of devotion to the sun. It was the Roman Empire that had its foot on the throat of the Jewish people (at least in their estimation). But it was this same Roman Empire that, just a few short centuries after the original Jesus movement, became the chief proponent of the Christian religion. The Catholic Church became a powerful political power in its own right, and the leaders thereof recognized the usefulness of Christianizing the Pagan holy days.
The widespread ancient tradition of solar worship became a rallying point for the Christian Church as they added yet another myth to the mix and made the birth of Jesus (right there at around the time of the winter solstice) the arrival of the true Son (Sun) of God and light to the world.
Whereas the ancient pagans celebrated the end of shorter days and "rebirth" of the sun, the sustainer of life on earth, the Christian religion heralded the arrival of that true light and source of life beyond this mortal realm.
For those of us more earthly-minded, the longer, warmer days are indeed a cause for celebration, and a spring of hope that earth's bounty will flourish and sustain us once again through another year.
Again there is that word hope. And for me that word encapsulates the true essence and spirit of this particular season, regardless of what mythology one cherishes. The old year is fast passing away and ahead of us lies another, full of uncertainties and unknowns. We face it with hope, for without hope we are the most tragic of creatures.