From the Prophet Zechariah:
Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion! For lo, I will come and dwell in your midst, says the Lord. Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in your midst. And you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem. Be silent, all people, before the Lord; for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Zechariah 2:10-13 (NRSV) – December 25, 2012.)
Today is the day! . . . . Well, not really. We don’t really know the date on which Jesus was born. In our ignorance, we Christians took over a pagan feast and made it our own. The feast of Sol Invictus became to feast of the Nativity. Celebrations of the birth of the conquering sun became the celebration of the birth of the conquering Son (a pun the only works in English).
Atheists and anti-religious types like to throw that fact in our faces and claim that Christianity is just a “made-up faith” (like all religions, they claim). Or, it used to suggest that Christianity is in someway “colonial”, taking over that which rightfully belongs to others. Or, the fact that many modern Christians do not know the history of the Christmas holiday becomes an indictment against all Christians as stupid and uninformed.
If you ask me, that is all a bunch of what my grandmother called pettifogging. The importance of this day lies not in its dating but in what it stands for. We don’t actually celebrate Jesus’ birthday; we celebrate the Nativity, the birth of God among us, the Incarnation of God in all times and in all places. We give thanks for God’s promise and God’s keeping God’s promise to come and dwell in our midst. It doesn’t matter on what particular day the Child in whom that was manifest was born. What matters is that he was born, not when. Before that reality silence and awe are the appropriate response, not pettifogging and bickering over calendars!
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given” wrote Episcopal priest Phillips Brooks in 1868 in the now popular carol O Little Town of Bethlehem. In it we sing this petition, “O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin and enter in, be born to us today.” That is a prayer for everyday, not simply on this feast of Sol Invictus. Since we don’t know on what particular day Jesus was born, perhaps we should celebrate his birth on every day.
Everyday is the day!
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.