By Rev. Jared Stillions
Some of you are familiar with the practice of withholding “eight pound, six ounces newborn baby Jesus, don’t even know a word yet” from the manger in their Nativity scenes until Christmas Eve, and though it may be enjoyable, it’s probably not very theologically accurate. (By the way, the above quote is from the silly movie “Talladega Nights.”) Besides we live in a world that has to be reminded to “keep Christ in Christmas.” Which is kind of silly, too, since Jesus was a real, flesh-and-blood, historical person. His birth and the details of his life and the claims he made, are not a matters of faith, but of public record. Of course whether one trusts that Jesus was telling the truth about himself, his Father, the Spirit, and the purpose of his death, is a matter of faith.
As we edge closer to Christmas, many TV shows and websites will seek to answer the question “Was Jesus really born at midnight on December 25 in the year AD 1?” As Biblical Christians we have nothing to fear in this media because the Bible and the earliest Christians didn’t record the time or date of baby Jesus’ birth or his weight and length. We celebrate his birth on December 25 for two reasons. First, it places his conception nine months earlier, at the time of Passover. That imagery shouldn’t be lost on us Christians. Second, it places his birth near the winter solstice, when the days of year lengthen. That locates the birthday of his cousin John the Baptizer, who was six months older, at the time of the summer solstice, when the days shorten, reminding us of the Baptizer’s statement in John 3:30 “he must increase, but I must decrease.”
All of this is well and good, but it’s rather abstract if we don’t actually take the time to celebrate his birth. For us and our fellow baptized Christians the worry in not about keeping Christ in Christmas so much as it is keeping the mass in Christmas. “Mas” refers to the Latin word for liturgical Christian worship: mass. Without “mass” or worship, the Christ in Christmas becomes just one more factoid “on this day in history.” With “mass,” Christ shines forth as Emmanuel, the Lord of might, the Branch of Jesse, the Dayspring, and the Key of David. Our worship proclaims him as more than a famous person; indeed he is “a child [who] has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).”
We look forward to celebrating Christmas in worship with all of you, if not in person at your local congregation, then in the communion of saints.