It may come as a surprise to some to learn that the actual date of Christ’s birth is unknown. December 25 was chosen by Rome around the year 300 AD. Why this particular date?
In olden times, before artificial light was invented, the season of winter was long, and dark, and dreary. And all of this was due to the fact that the sun had gone away. However, the people knew that at a certain point the sun began to come back, and things changed for the better. So they had a feast to celebrate this fact. It was known as the feast of the Unconquerable Sun (Sol Invictus).
To counter this pagan feast the Church chose December 25, which is close to the winter solstice, to celebrate the birth of Christ. Instead of worshiping the Sun-God, people were encouraged to worship Christ, the Son of God. The Church saw the coming of Jesus as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah: “The people that lived in darkness have seen a great light;” Jesus described his mission in similar terms when he said: “I am the light of the world.”
December is the darkest month of the year (in the northern hemisphere). It’s a time when we appreciate the value of light. Christmas means the coming of God’s light into the darkness of our world.
How dark the world would be if the light of Christ had never shone.
The Russian writer, Dostoevsky, put it like this: “While we are on earth, we grope in the dark, and, but for the precious image of Christ before us, we would lose our way completely and perish.”
The teaching of Christ was truly a source of light to all who accepted him. But it was above all through his deeds and encounters with people that his luminous goodness manifested itself. Countless people came to him in darkness and went away bathed in light.
Christ’s light was not lit in Bethlehem once and then extinguished.
Unlike the sun, Christ’s light knows no setting. It continues to shine for all who believe in him and follow him. The light of Christ is a persistent light, and has the power to draw people to its shining. It’s not an illusory comfort, or a false reassurance that all is well when this is clearly not the case. It shines in the midst of devastation, disaster and scandal. The Gospel is a persistent and defiant light, which no darkness can overpower.
Christ’s light comes as a friend. It brings healing not hurt, freedom not oppression, life not death. Those who follow him will always have the light of life.
As I celebrate my first Christmas with the family of St. John the Evangelist I pray that you will experience the warmth and brightness of that light through your family, relatives, friends, and our beautiful parish community. May the light of Christ bring you joy, hope, and peace.