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D is for December

december-candleD is for December. Why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25th? It is not as if we can check Jesus’ birth certificate! There are a few (mostly negative) references to the early Christians to be found in histories written within a century of the earthly life of Jesus, but outside of the New Testament, there are no documents that tell us anything about him.

The contents of the New Testament, as we have it today, were collected about 300 years after Jesus’ earthly life. Scholars think the earliest parts of the New Testament were written at least 40-50 years after the first Easter. The Gospel stories do not indicate the date or the season of Jesus’ birth. All of which is a long way of saying we don’t have much to go on, to determine the actual birthdate of Jesus.

What about the census? You may remember that Luke’s Gospel says, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.” (Luke 2:1-3)

The Roman Empire had a well-developed bureaucracy, which left detailed documents historians find incredibly helpful. There is no record of the census that Luke mentions. (Scholars question whether the Romans ever had a census that required people to travel to their places of origin.)

I would highly recommend an article found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas for a detailed summary of the history of the celebration of Jesus’ birthday on December 25. It offers a depth and breadth of discussion on the topic I can’t duplicate here.

Another site I recommend is:  http://www.interfaith-calendar.org/2016.htm

This link will take you to an interfaith calendar, which lists many of the diverse religious and cultural celebrations that happen this time of year. What strikes me is how many of them are about light. It seems like people all over the world have need of a hopeful celebration in the season of the Winter Solstice.

The December 25 date for Jesus’ birthday is not historically supported, and not even biblically suggested. Does that in any real way diminish our celebrations?

God is at work in the world every moment of every day, helping give birth to love and hope and new possibility. Every day that we open ourselves up to the presence of God can be for us a holy day.

I continue to encourage you to take two minutes each day for silent prayer, and open yourself to the living presence of God. If it helps you to settle in, light a candle, and think of Jesus as the light of the world.

The Advent Alphabet is a ministry offering from Rev. Darrow Woods, minister at Trinity United Church in Oakville, Ontario.

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