Friday, December 25, 2009


The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day
December 25, 2009
Luke 2:1-20

We’re here today to celebrate the birth of Christ. That’s what people do. On their birthday they celebrate their birth. December 25 is the date for celebrating Jesus being born. Some people don’t give it a second thought of why this is the date for Christmas. Others have tried to find out why this date has been chosen. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what the actual date was. The Bible doesn’t tell us, so we don’t know for sure.

But just because it doesn’t ultimately matter doesn’t mean it’s not important. In fact, there are some Christians down through the ages who saw great importance to the actual date of December 25. And even though Luke doesn’t give us the date, he does give us historical details surrounding the birth of Christ. They don’t help us nail down the date, but they do show us something important about God and how He has chosen to make His salvation known.

Through history.

The Bible is a historical document. It documents historical events and people. Luke even tells us that this is what he has set out to do in writing the account of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In giving us the account of the birth of Christ he gives us the historical setting of this. We don’t know all the details but we know some of them. And they’re important.

Not only theologians but also historians love the historical details given in the Scriptures. Historians use ancient writings and archaeological findings to analyze what was going on in the world of the Scriptures and why. Christians do this too. But even more importantly, they hold to the Scriptures as those words which give eternal life. The Bible is not just history, it is salvation history.

Some people have believed that Jesus was born on the actual date of December 25. But historians have noticed that this day was high festival of pagan religion. It was a celebration of the sun and the winter solstice. Some people think that Christians realized that since they worshiped something far greater than the sun which lights our days, that the Son of God is the Light of the World, what better way to overshadow this pagan celebration than to celebrate their own festival in the Christian Church on the same day. Christians have done these kinds of things over the centuries. For example, taking the secular word gospel, which means “good news,” and using it as the core teaching of Christianity—the Good News of salvation. So it’s perfectly reasonable that Christians made December 25 the date to celebrate Christmas as a response to the false religion of paganism.

But there’s another possibility. And whether or not it’s true, it shows us the purpose of Christmas. There was a belief by some in the ancient world that you die on the same date as your conception. What this means for the date of December 25, the Early Church Father Tetullian determined from John’s Gospel account of the suffering of Jesus that the date He died was March 25. This would mean His conception was on March 25 as well and therefore, in line with the belief that you die on the date of your conception, Jesus was born nine months later, on December 25.

This tells us something extremely important about Christmas. It’s not so much about Jesus’ birth as it is about His death. Jesus was born in order to die. Not that it’s not important that He was born. It is vitally important. Really, you can’t separate His birth from His death; just as you can’t separate His death from His resurrection. But we miss the whole point of Jesus being born if there’s no application of His suffering on the cross.

The Scriptures alone are our source for what we believe, teach, and confess. They alone are our source for what we need to know for salvation. But there are ripples in history that bear witness to the truth of the Word of God. There’s no reason to ignore them. And that’s why it’s so fascinating for us to see the possibility of why December 25 might have been chosen.

These kinds of things still happen today. Even in current culture. Do you know what the word “invictus” means? I’ve seen the previews for the new movie Invictus with Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon about Nelson Mandela and the South African rugby team. I didn’t know anything about the history of that incident. Nelson Mandela when he was released from prison reached out with an olive branch to those who sought ill will toward his fellow black countrymen. He urged his countrymen to forgive those who oppressed them. He said that the way they should fight back was to offer forgiveness. One of the ways he did this was to get the country to get behind the all-white national rugby team. I haven’t seen the movie so I don’t know how it all turns out, but I wondered why the movie was titled “Invictus.” And since I never checked into it I still didn’t know.

But in learning about the theory of why December 25 was chosen as the date for Christmas I found out. The pagan festival was “Sol Invictus,” Sol referring to the Roman Sun god, Invictus meaning unconquered—the Unconquered Sun. Jesus you could say was conquered on the cross. But you could also say that on the cross He was invictus, unconquered. It was in that sacrifice that victory was made. All other religions are conquered in that suffering and death of the Son of God. Sin and death and the Father of Lies, the devil, are defeated. That’s where and how forgiveness is won.

All of this is in view in the birth of Jesus, the Son of God. The false gods of pagan Rome and Greece, and of every other religion never came down to earth to bring salvation. Christ alone has done that. In the birth of Christ we see the truth of Christianity and of salvation for the world. That’s why Paul says that we are more than conquerors. We are joined with Christ in Baptism and therefore become as He is, invictus, unconquered. Amen.


No comments: