Christmas – Birthday or Anniversary?
This morning, one of our faithful readers asked me a question. He attends a church where the pastor has said that Christmas is an anniversary celebration as opposed to a birthday celebration for Jesus. Anyway, I received a note asking if I agreed or not and whether I could explain my answer. Needless to say, I always look forward to the opportunity to teach and so I decided that this topic would be just perfect for tonight – especially in view of the fact that Christmas is one week from today.
So, first off, the easy part. Christmas is the day that we celebrate the human arrival of Jesus, as a baby, to His mother Mary, and his earthly father, Joseph. Notice that I said earthly father, because the real father of Jesus, according to the Scripture, is God, through the announcement made by the angel that Mary would have a son. So, hopefully, we can agree that Jesus was raised by Mary and Joseph, although there are very limited references to Joseph and by most accounts, he most likely died when Jesus was still in His teens.
There is also some deep discussion about whether December 25 is actually the day that Jesus was born and I admit that I haven’t done a ton of forensic study in this area. But I have heard different dates proposed as the correct date – everything from the fall of the year to even April and in one case, June. All the various positions seem to have valid defenses for their particular chosen date, but in the scheme of things, the exact date isn’t that important compared to the fact that at some point, Jesus was born, in the flesh, to live and dwell among us on the face of the earth.
As an example, one interesting defense of the December 25 date is that it is 4 days after the Winter Solstice, December 21st, and some theologians argue that the original light mentioned in Genesis was created on the 4th day of creation, which they maintain came on the Spring Equinox. So Jesus, the light of the world, also was born on the 4th day after the longest night, just as the earth was in darkness for the first four days of creation.
An argument against December 25th is that there was a pagan religion that celebrated “light” on December 25th, so the early church picked December 25th as the day to celebrate the birth of Christ, in order to squash the new pagan religion that was just getting started. Now mind you, I am just using one example of each argument, but there are many – for and against December 25th, but I hope you get the idea.
Now remember, that was the easy part. On to the more difficult part of the discussion. Since Jesus is fully man and fully God, it would made sense that he had two possible birthdays. I have already tried to explain the human side – for the sake of argument, let’s stick with the December 25th date. But what about the fact that Jesus was also fully God?
In order for God to have a birthday, we would have to figure out when God was “born.” Therein lies the problem. Because God is infinite, and has no beginning and no end, God was never “born.” He just always was… Now I know that is difficult for some people to accept – especially scientific types who want to prove everything. But since we weren’t created until much later, after the creation of the world and after angels, I daresay, there is no way that we can even go back and try to study the question as to how long God has existed. Therefore, Jesus, in His deity, doesn’t have a birthday at all. He always existed. Period…
Now, we are faced with one last question. How can one person have a birthday in his humanness and not ever be born in His deity? Therein lies the crux of the question. If we go back to the beginning, and accept the fact, as Christians, that God always existed, then technically God the Son, as part of the Holy Trinity, does not have a birthday at all. However, at some point in time, God the Father sent God the Son to earth, as a human child, to teach us a model of behavior that He wished for us to follow. That date was, for all intents and purposes, the day we celebrate as Christmas – the birth of the human Jesus, the light of the world.
Finally, if we accept that God has always existed, and that Jesus was fully God and fully human, then I suppose that December 25th really is an anniversary. That is, the anniversary of the arrival of Jesus entering the world as a human baby.
The verses for tonight reflect both sides of Jesus. First, in support of the fact that God the Son (also referred to as the “Word”) has always existed. From John 1:1-2, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” See that? In the beginning, as far back as anything can go, the “Word” was with God the Father. In other words, no birthday.
And from Matthew we learn that Joseph was approached by an angel who announced the eventual birth of Jesus to him. The angel told Joseph, in Matthew 1:21, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” So, on the human side, Jesus was born to Mary, presumably on December 25th.
My encouragement tonight is that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all want to have a relationship with you. With all the grandeur of eternal life and all the knowledge that ever was or ever will be, God chooses you. My prayer is that this Christmas you will experience the joy of the birth of the Savior of the world, while recognizing that God has been there every step of the way – the Alpha and the Omega – the first and the last – and everything in between. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…