Birth of Jesus
About 2000 years ago God sent an angel to Israel, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to Joseph, a carpenter. The angel told Mary that by God’s power, she would conceive and bear a son.
When Joseph learned that she was pregnant, an angel instructed him to marry her. Joseph took her to Bethlehem to register for a census. While there, Mary gave birth to Jesus. She laid him in a manger because there was no room at the inn. Shepherds visited Jesus in Bethlehem.
Later, wise men brought gifts to Jesus. They told Herod the Great, a wicked king, that Jesus would rule Israel. So Herod sent soldiers to kill the children in Bethlehem. Warned by an angel, Joseph took his family to Egypt. After Herod died, they returned to Israel and raised Jesus in a town called Nazareth.
The word Christmas comes from the Old English ‘Cristes Mæsse’ ~ meaning the ‘mass of Christ’ ~ the story of Christmas begins with the birth of a babe in Bethlehem.
There is a very widespread theory that Christmas began in Rome as a response to pagan festivities centering around the winter solstice, which was locally considered to be 25 December. The pagan celebration, which was first established by the Roman emperor Aurelian in AD 274, was called The Birth of the Invincible Sun. However, there is evidence that, some years earlier, Christians had made a sincere attempt to calculate the actual date of Jesus’ birthday. People commonly believe that Christmas was instituted on the date of a pagan holiday to supplant it, but it was actually the other way around. Christmas was there first.
In ancient Judaism, there was a common belief, which ancient Christians inherited, that the prophets of Israel died on the on the same date as their birth or conception. This may be behind the long-standing Christian custom of referring to the date of a martyr’s death as their “birthday in heaven.” According to ancient western calculations, Jesus was crucified on 25 March, so they assumed that 25 March was the date of Jesus’ conception. The Annunciation is still commemorated on that date to this day. Nine months after 25 March leads to 25 December, which would be the birthday of Jesus Christ if all those assumptions and calculations were correct. They aren’t correct, but the fact remains that the date has a Christian origin.
In AD 354, Philocalus wrote a Christian martyrology that dates the nativity of Jesus Christ on December 25, and cites an earlier work as backup. From this we can deduce that Christmas was celebrated on the present date at least as early as AD 335 in Rome.
The origin of Santa Claus begins in the 4th century with Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, an area in present day Turkey. By all accounts St. Nicholas was a generous man, particularly devoted to children. After his death around 340 A.D. he was buried in Myra, but in 1087 Italian sailors purportedly stole his remains and removed them to Bari, Italy, greatly increasing St. Nicholas’ popularity throughout Europe.
The abbreviation of Xmas for Christmas is not irreligious. The first letter of the word Christ in Greek is chi, which is identical to our X. Xmas was originally an ecclesiastical abbreviation that was used in tables and charts. In the early days of printing, when font sizes were limited and type was set by hand, abbreviations and ditto marks were used liberally. Xmas came into general use from the church!
We are all used to seeing nativity scenes at Christmas, wise men or Kings giving the newborn baby Jesus three little gifts. The incorrect myths about this incident are 1. There were three. (Fact: The number is not mentioned but they usually traveled in large numbers.) 2. They were wise men. (Fact: The main Bible versions translate the same word as “astrologers” in the book of Daniel and as “sorcerer” in Acts.) 3. They went to the manger when Jesus was a baby. (Fact: They went to the house when Jesus was just under 2 years old.) 4. They were kings. (Fact: They were not.) 5. The star they followed was bright. (Fact: The New Testament does not say this.) Note the word “house”. This was just under two years after Jesus’ birth, which is why Herod decreed that all male children under the age of two be put to death..
“Wise men” is the way several Bible versions chose to translate “Magoi” (the plural of Magos). Magos is a Mede word simply meaning “Priest”. The Magoi were originally involved in spiritism before the Zoroastrian religion found its way to Persia. Magoi had been established over the state religion of Persia by Darius the Great – a secular as well as religious post. They became the priestly caste of the Persian Empire. Throughout the Persian Empire, the Magoi were the official spiritual advisors to the Persian king. Persia had no state religion. The Magoi always led the processions when the army marched out, and sacrificed one horse a month to the spirit of Cyrus. One Magos had the permanent job of looking after (both in a spiritual and physical sense) the tomb of Cyrus of Great. By Jesus’ time, the Persian Empire had long been gone, conquered by Alexander the Great. Alexander’s successors had taken over the various parts of the Old Persian Empire. The Macedonians left the conquered people their own religion and customs, and merely imposed a superficial administration. By the time of Jesus’ birth, the Magoi may have been the official spiritual advisors to the Seleucid state.
Magoi were astronomers, astrologers, dream interpreters and spellcasters. In fact, Daniel 5:11 tells us that one of the titles given to Daniel was “Chief of the Magoi”. Herodotos tells us that the Magoi were interpreters of dreams and visions. He names the Magoi as one of the Median tribes. Herodotos states that sacrifices could not be performed unless a Magos was present, and speaks of their sorcery and spells.
After all those very interesting facts, I say feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty and show love to a stranger.