It’s true. Christmas is bigger than just one day.
You may have personally settled whether 25th December is the “real” Christmas Day or not. No one knows the exact date of Christ’s birth. But it’s a recorded fact … “And the Word became flesh and dwelt (tented) among us …” (John 1:14 ESV)
We are nowhere commanded to remember His birth date; but definitely the occasion of His death & resurrection! But the commercial world was quick to sense the profitability of the occasion and literally cashed in on it. So, as one advert behind the local bus along Orchard Road proposed, “Have a Merry Giftmas”. That’s the best you can get when you leave Christ out of CHRISTmas! Thanks to the wise men, a tradition of sorts kicked off and the Exchange of Presents dominates present-day 25th December (first thing in the morning).
Now, did the wise men know they were actually nearly 2 years late? By the time they came a-knocking, our Lord Jesus was already a child, not a baby, and in the house (Matthew 2:11), no longer in the romantic and quaint stable or cave. The shepherds had long gone back to raise more lambs and sheep, still overwhelmed that the Greatest Announcement ever made – “a Saviour who is Christ the Lord” – by an angel accompanied by an entire heavenly host was proclaimed to humble, blue-collar-type workers, minding their own business on an undistinguished hillside. God’s agenda reaches the anonymous and ordinary.
How did the wise men know what to look out for and what to bring? Gold, frankincense and myrrh were so symbolic of Christ’s kingship, divinity and sacrifice respectively. Neat.
One scholar suspected, they were tipped off by no lesser luminary than Daniel. Although there is no Biblical record of exactly who they were or their point of origin, there is reason to believe that the Magi were descendants of the “magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers” of Babylon (Daniel 5:11). God, in His great providence, used Daniel (while he was in captivity in Babylon), to teach these men about future events – including the birth of the Savior of the world.
So, the first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on 25th December was 336 AD during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (he was the first Christian Roman Emperor). A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December. Quite possibly, that date might also have been chosen because the Winter Solstice and the ancient pagan Roman midwinter festivals calls “Saturnalia” and “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti” took place in December around this date – so it was a time when people already celebrated things. (Source: www.whychristmas.com) That’s why.
Christmas is more than just one day. It’s more than one lifetime. As the carol says of Christ’s coming to earth, “Mild He lays His glory by; Born that man no more may die”. Charles Wesley’s great carol reminds us – it’s for now and all eternity. Live it up.
Andrew Goh is the honorary Editor of Impact.