Jesus wasn’t born on December 25, but…

December 27, 2011

I should qualify that heading by saying there’s about a 1 in 365 chance he was born on December 25.

Still, as you probably know, that the church chose December 25 to celebrate Christ’s birth wasn’t arbitrary. Under the old Julian calendar, it marked the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. For the next six months following the winter solstice, each day will be marked by progressively more daylight.

Some Christians are bothered by the fact that Christmas falls on (or near) what was traditionally a pagan holiday. Ancient people celebrated the solstice because it meant “the end of gloom and darkness and the victory of the sun and the light over darkness.”1 As Adam Hamilton points out, however, the solstice is a fitting symbol of Christmas:

Many believe that when Christians in the fourth century settled on a date to celebrate the birth of Jesus, they chose the date not because it was a pagan holiday, but because the heavens themselves declared at this time the truth of the gospel. The winter solstice represented astronomically what John’s Gspel proclaimed was happening spiritually in the birth of Jesus Christ. Just as darkness was defeated by light, so in Jesus, God’s light would defeat the darkness of sin and death.

This meaning is captured in John’s telling of the story. John doesn’t mention angels or shepherds or wise men; he speaks only of light and life and the defeat of darkness. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with  God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).2

1. Adam Hamilton, The Journey (Nashville: Abingdon, 2011), 126.

2. Ibid., 127.

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