In a few days it will be Christmas. Already the sound of crackers and church choirs rehearsing for the carol services, and a few enthusiastic carolers singing to their neighbours fill the air. For many of us this is a time for enjoying family get-togethers, cooking favourite Christmas dishes including the Christmas cake, pudding, Yule log and Breudher – and of course shopping for presents and decorations to hang on the Christmas tree. These traditions are what most Christians across the world never fail to observe at this time around. So commercialised has the season become that even the name Christmas is now replaced with Holidays so as to avoid offending any ethnic and non Christian groups. In Sri Lanka where we don’t get snow people still count ‘jingle bells’ and ‘sleigh bells on the snow’ as their favourite Christmas carols. Sadly the mention of Christ is hardly present.
By far, most of them are so steeped in folklore that go back to the dim past, that it is often difficult to sift them from the few facts that teeter on the edge to remind us what Christmas really means.
Hidden in this welter of myths one fact stands out; the birth of the Christ Child. Just this month newspapers across the world published an intriguing report. It stated that a fragment of wood reputed to be from the manger where Jesus was laid after his humble birth went on display in Jerusalem in late November ahead of its transfer to Bethlehem for the official launch of the Christmas message. The wood piece, said to be just a few inches long, was once kept in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and handed over earlier last month to the custodian of the Bethlehem church. Unveiled to the public at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, encased in silver coloured ornamental table top stand it was to be taken to Bethlehem which was the birth place of Jesus.
There it would be placed inside the Saint Catherine church adjacent to the Church of the nativity in Manger Square in time for the lighting of the Christmas tree. The relic according to the statement issued by the Vatican, dates more than 2,000 years and was “part of the manger in which Baby Jesus was laid”. It was sent to the Vatican in the 7th century. While proving the truth of these ancient relics is often questionable, they are nevertheless revered by the Christians. I recall joining a tour of pilgrims and having to squeeze through a narrow sandstone entrance in the Church of the Nativity to see some of these relics that we were told had never perished.
Announcement of the birth
The gospel of Luke tells us that it was to ordinary shepherds engaged in one of the lowliest professions at the time, that God chose to send an Angel to deliver this extraordinary birth announcement of the birth of a new born baby which would “cause great joy for all people”, which indeed He did. In Luke’s account of the Christmas story which we believe is the most authentic records, written by Jesus’s disciples shortly after His death, the angel who announced his birth to the shepherds said, “do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people. For today, in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you: he is the Messiah, the Lord”.
It was a life changing message. For the joy His birth brought was not for a few people but for all. Since then the message has spread through the centuries to the present day where Christ’s messengers of joy continue to carry His message of Peace, Love and Joy to all.
The coming of a Saviour was nothing new to the Israelites who had been promised that a Messiah would soon be born to save them. Moses had promised them of a new saviour. So did Prophet Isaiah and other prophets of the Old Testament, several hundreds of years before Jesus’s birth.
He was first publicly acknowledged as the saviour by John the Baptist who when He baptised Him in the river Jordon called Him, “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and one who was the true messiah the son of the living god.
The day December 25 is still a hotly debatable date. The birth of Baby Jesus, born to the Virgin Mary in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem was said to have been recorded in the year 1 CE (i.e. the start of the Gregorian calendar). Yet no matter the date, year, or time, the fact is that the only Son of God was sent as a babe born in a manger to a young virgin mother, lived 33 years on this earth and carried out His remarkable ministry in the space of three years, an incomparable feat that accomplished and won the respect, love and acceptance of so many.
Christ’s birth signifies Hope and Peace. It provided the world a kind of bridge that brought God to us directly without the need of intermediaries which was even at the time He lived was assaulted by conflict, divisions, and hatred. The most important gift we can ever receive is God’s gift of His Son, our Saviour and with Him forgiveness, restoration and the promise of spiritual life that begins now and lasts forever.
We can put Christ back in our lives and give Him our hearts. So let us take priority over the birth of Christ; let us make this Christmas a Christ centred event above writing Christmas lists in which decorations, food, presents and last minute bargain sales and shopping.
Written by: Carol Aloysius