Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Was Christ Ever in Christmas? A Dissent from David Graf

Anent the piece I did about The Catholic New World’s Tom Sheridan, contributor David P. Graf writes:
“Considering how almost everything about the way we celebrate Christmas has its roots in paganism or other religions, it’s a big disingenuous thing to talk about it as a `spiritual event.’ It’s not a matter of faith. There’s nothing in the Bible about celebrating Christ’s birth not does the celebration show up in any of our creeds. When we defend Christmas, I’m not sure what we’re defending but we’re certainly not defending Christ or Christianity.”

Response: David, I appreciate your comments. I think you confuse two things: the literal date, day, month, of Christ’s birth which we don’t know—and the importance of the feast day itself. True, the date of an early pagan observance was adopted but the exact date since it is unknowable. Yet the feast of the Nativity is the most important celebration in the Christian calendar because it marks our own possible redemption. In Advent the coming of Christ is anticipated, looking back to the age of prophecy which foretold the birth of the Messiah: thus it most certainly is in both Old and New Testaments. I assume you’re familiar with Luke telling of the birth of Christ and Luke is the only evangelist who gives it in detail. He recounts 10 episodes in all: including the annunciation of John the Baptist’s birth as forerunner of Christ, announcement of Jesus’ forthcoming birth to Mary, the visit of Mary to Elizabeth where the unborn John leapt in Elizabeth’s womb. Luke tells the Nativity story from Mary’s perspective, of the visit to her by the Angel Gabriel, her acceptance of God’s will. The birth is said to have taken place when Ouirinius was governor of Syria and citizens had to travel to their ancestral towns to register for the census.

Then Luke records Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable. Angels announce the birth to shepherds who left their flocks to observe the child. Luke the physician serves as a superb reporter, writing “since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account.” After Mary observes her 40 days of ritual purification, she goes with Joseph to the temple to present Jesus to God. There Simeon and Anna, two elderly persons, recognize the infant as the promise Messiah with Simeon concluding that Jesus would cause many in Israel to fall and rise and bring deep sorrow to the heart of Mary. So the Nativity is front and center as a harbinger in the Jewish bible and in the New Testament. As to the Nativity not showing up in the creeds, in the Apostles Creed the wording is “and in Jesus Christ, our Lord who was born of the Virgin Mary.” In the Nicene Creed it is “in our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten of the Father.” In Advent the Christian church refers to the historic prophecies of Christ’s coming, citing the age of prophecy which foretold the birth of the Messiah and looking ahead prophetically to His coming at the dawn of each person’s eternity and His coming on the last day of the present world.

You say “when we defend Christmas I’m not sure what we’re defending but we’re sure not defending Christ or Christianity.” I can only say that you are totally theologically and historically wrong in this. It is unreasonable to insist that Christmas, the observance of Christ’s birth, does not pertain to Christianity. Indeed, that’s the central issue as to what Christianity is all about. And if you think we’re absolved from celebrating Christmas because Luke didn’t specifically recommend doing so in his gospel, I can only say that as he scribbled out his words, this physician was also rather busy with more immediate needs: tending to Paul’s infirmities, trailing Paul and writing all the while, accompanying Paul when he went to jail in Phillipi and ultimately to Rome where the Apostle to the Gentiles was beheaded. After writing of the miraculous birth of Jesus, it would be redundant to suggest that now and henceforth everyone should celebrate the day. It’s rather obvious. I urge you to think it over. But I do value your comments.

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