Baby's birth made quiet night holy
By H. Murray Hohns
By H. Murray Hohns
I lived on the cowpath in a farming community in Pennsylvania one Christmas long ago. My youngest daughter was just a tyke that year, and I have a mental snapshot of her all dressed up in a green velvet dress with white trim, looking at the Christmas tree. Her expression was one of awe and wonder. That memory has remained in my heart for many years. (This daughter celebrated her 41st birthday in July.)
The first Christmas featured the same awe and wonder as shepherds on the hillsides above Bethlehem saw an angel appear in a suddenly brightened night sky. That angel was soon joined by the heavenly host, which began to praise God and proclaim peace on earth and goodwill toward men. They announced that the savior of the world had been born that night.
Imagine that. God in flesh was born as a defenseless baby in an old stable one night 2,000 years ago. That defies imagination and all logic.
The shepherds went to see this baby and came back to their flocks, fully convinced of the reality of what they had heard and seen. Scripture tells us that three magi from the East soon arrived to pay homage to this baby. Scripture also tells us that the mother of this child pondered and treasured these happenings in her heart.
What would you have done if you were there that night on the hillside with the shepherds? Would you have gone down the mountain into town? Or would you have dismissed it as a prank or some phenomenon that needed a scientific explanation before you got excited?
His birth was the start of people proclaiming that this baby grew into a man who gave his life for our sins. He was put to death on a cross at age 33 and buried in a rock hewn tomb. Scripture tells us he arose from that death in a few days and soon ascended into heaven. All things are beneath his feet and that every human knee will bow before him and confess him as Lord before the end of time as we know it.
Christmas became a holiday as time went on. Different methods were used to try to establish the actual date of Christ's birth. Jan. 2, April 18, April 19, May 20 and Dec. 25 were all proposed as possible dates. Thought is that the December date became the one recognized, since it coincided with the pagan festival of Saturnalia and the winter solstice.
Historians say the church thus offered an alternative holiday which over time assimilated many prevailing customs — such as holly, mistletoe, the yule log and the decorated tree. The Christians added the nativity crib, exchanging greetings and the singing of Christmas carols. We hear criticism from many quarters about the commercialization of the season, and history tells us that criticism of this holiday is not new.
Some of the more pious resented the long standing associations and traditions that were founded in the pagan feasting of old. Study of church history in America reveals that many orthodox Christians (Puritans, early Presbyterians) refused to celebrate Christmas. Other areas of the world have brought their own customs, ideas and criticisms into the celebration of this event.
Regardless, the season is what it has become because of Jesus and his ever-present touch. Christmas is the day we celebrate his birth, which occurred on a silent and holy night all those years ago.
H. Murray Hohns of Makiki is an associate pastor at New Hope Christian Fellowship.