December 26, 2010 in Uncategorized
By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger
—there was no room for them to stay in the inn.”
- Luke 2:7
Christmas means differently to different people. For some it means a time for family re-unions. Members of the family here and abroad will come home and celebrate Christmas together with parties and sumptuous food. For others, it means a time to decorate their homes and business establishments with Christmas lights, lanterns, and various kinds of decorations, and exchange gifts with each other.
For the indigenous peoples, like the Lumads in Mindanao, the Mangyans in Mindoro, the Aetas in Zambales, and some old people in the Cordilleras; it is a time to come down to the lowlands and beg in the streets and in the homes. For the various offices, both public and private, it is a time to give Christmas bonuses.
Generally speaking, when Christmas comes, people suddenly become generous and considerate, and spendthrift. Thus, business establishments will take advantage of the situation and make all sorts of promos and business gimmicks to gain more profits using various forms and symbols of Christmas. Similarly, civic and religious organizations do all sorts of fund-raising during the Christmas season.
Perhaps, Christmas is the most celebrated of all Christian festivals, but also the most distorted and most commercialized. It is sad to say that Santa Claus becomes more popular than Jesus during the Christmas season.
Two Dates of Jesus’ Birth
Subjective interpretations of Jesus’ birth are not new. The universal church was first divided in 1053 into two parts: the Western Church called the Roman Catholic Church, and the Eastern Church called the Greek Orthodox Church. The Western Church celebrates Christmas on December 25, while the Eastern Church celebrates Christmas on January 6. For the Western Church January 6 is the Feast of the Wise Men from the East.
We don’t really know the exact date of Jesus’ birth. This was not preserved in the Scriptures. But why do we celebrate Jesus’ birth in the Philippines on December 25? Churches in our country, Roman Catholic and Protestant alike, belong historically to the Western Church. When Rome became a Christian city in 313 BCE under Emperor Constantine, the Roman Christians continued to celebrate their thanksgiving festival on December 25 as they used to do when they were still pagans to honor the birth of their gods and goddesses.
Before Rome became a Christian city, the Romans believed that the gods and goddesses are born on December 25, which is the beginning of the solstice. And since there was no record of Jesus’ exact date of birth, the Roman Christians therefore adopted December 25 as Jesus’ birth like their pagan gods and goddesses. This is precisely the reason why some Christians today do not celebrate Christmas on December 25, because of its pagan origin.
However, some would think that the date of Jesus’ birth does not matter. Any day of the year can be a Christmas day. It is the life that Jesus lived that really matters, that makes a Christmas day significant, whether the celebration is on December 25 or January 6.
Two Stories of Jesus’ Birth
Aside from the date, there are also two stories of Jesus’ birth as recorded in the Scriptures: one in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 1:18-2:23) and another in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2). There is no nativity story in the Gospel of Mark, while in the Gospel of John Jesus came on earth like the story of Adam in the Book of Genesis (cf. Gen. 2) without passing through the pain of childbirth.
The two stories in the Gospels are completely different from each other. Obviously, the stories speak more of the concerns of the Gospel writers rather than the details of what really happened in Jesus’ birth. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was born in a house, while in the Gospel of Luke Jesus was born in a manger. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was visited by the wise men from the East, while in the Gospel of Luke Jesus was visited by the shepherds of the fields.
Obviously, the interpretations of the Gospel writers were colored by their respective emphasis. Matthew addressed his Gospel to the relatively rich Jewish Christians of his day who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the King of the Jews they were longing to come in the fullness of time to set them free from their colonizers; while Luke addressed his Gospel to the poor Gentile Christians of his time who believed that Jesus was the savior not only of the Jews but also of the Gentiles, not only of the rich but also of the poor, like those who are born in a manger.
Meaning of Jesus’ Birth
Indeed, people through the ages have interpreted Christmas, the birth of Jesus, in terms of their own social location. They put meaning to the celebration of Jesus’ birth in terms of their own personal convictions and cultural experiences. Thus, we find varied interpretations of Christmas in different contexts. This somehow affirms the faith that God comes to us in concrete situations we are in.
The meaning of Jesus’ birth is found in his death; the meaning of Jesus’ death is found in his life. Jesus’ birth has become significant and meaningful because of the way Jesus lived his life in the service of the people, especially the poor and oppressed, even to the point of death. And so, the best way to celebrate Christmas is to live the kind of life Jesus lived not only in this season of joy and merriment, but everyday of our life the whole year round. God bless.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!