As the Christmas season begins, I wish you all a very happy Christmas.
Many holidays are celebrations or remembrances of events. The two days of the Christian liturgical year more important than Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, for example, are yearly celebrations of events (the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit, respectively, as are Palm Sunday, Ascension Day, and Reformation Day, among others. Similar secular examples in the United States include the Fourth of July, Columbus Day, and Constitution Day. And in the Jewish calendar (which, having studied it and being somewhat familiar with some elements of Messianic Judaism, I think Christians can learn quite a bit from) the Passover and Hanukkah are good examples. But there are others that are celebrations or remembrances of facts. (There’s a lot of that in the “events” category too, but the distinction is still useful.) In the U.S. secular calendar we have Memorial Day, Flag Day, Labor Day, Presidents Day, and any number of invented holidays like Mothers Day, Fathers Day, and the like. In the Jewish calendar, the rest of the commanded feasts (Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, etc.) and even each Sabbath are intended as reminders of facts rather than remembrances of events. And in the Christian calendar we have Trinity Sunday, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday. And Christmas.
While Christmas is indeed a celebration of the birth of the Christ, despite all the carols and other poetry describing the event (“In the bleak midwinter,” “See amid the winter’s snow,” etc.) we don’t know when this birth actually occurred. But its celebration is still important. First, much like the custom of celebrating a monarch’s birthday on a date more suited to celebration than his or her actual birthday, having a date and celebrating on it is more important than that the date be precisely right. And second, much like other birthdays, the celebration is not so much that the person was born, but more a general celebration of the person. Christmas is a celebration of the Incarnation: the fact that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” That God became man. That the transcendent God put on mortal humanity. That “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” In other words, of the gospel. And it serves as a reminder of Jesus’ message: “the kingdom of God is at hand!” No wonder the world wants to suppress its proper celebration.