Do you struggle with the commercialization of Christmas? Or with folks forgetting the “reason for the season”? If so, just imagine what it was like for the early Christians in the ancient Roman world.
Back then there was no Christmas. The popular winter solstice feasts and celebrations were often centered around raucous, strange and even lewd fertility rites of the local pagan religions. They tempted and compromised the beliefs and morals of a lot of those early followers of Christ.
The dreariness and depression that people struggle with each year during these bleak winter months in the Northern Hemisphere is neither new nor unusual. Folks have been struggling with it for hundreds of years. Consequently, the arrival of the winter solstice has attracted various forms of ceremony and special days throughout history in an attempt to bring hope into the darker days.
Ever heard of Soyal, Wayeb, Yule, Meán Geimhridh, Perchta, Beiwe, Deygān, Sol Invictus or Saturnalia? These are just a few of the current and ancient holidays that occurred, or still occur, during winter solstice.
When some early believers first tried to substitute a Christian ceremony around the birth of Christ, the church generally rejected the notion since it was too closely associated with the pagan celebrations. Much later the church revitalized the idea of the Christ-Mass celebration as an authentic Christian festival in various cultures while preserving much of the folklore and traditions of local pagan festivals.
The nice thing about Christmas is that we do mark out a special day to remember the One who came “to save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) The Bible accounts (Matthew 1; Luke 2) tell us how Jesus came in vulnerability and weakness and yet was able to save us from our sins: “Not ours only, but also the sins of the whole world!” (1 John 2:1)
Jesus cures the winter darkness blues, proclaiming, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). And again: “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (John 12:46).
Finally, believing in the resurrection of Jesus brings new life to our hearts. The Message Bible says: “Let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed … Thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15:51-58).
John Parker is a pastor at Connections Simple Church of Chowchilla, which meets 10 a.m. Sundays at Carty Center, 609 W. Robertson Blvd. Learn more at www.simplechurchsuccess.com or call 209-564-7201.