Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Il est né, le divine enfant!

Il est né, le divine enfant;
Jouez hautbois, résonnez musettes!
Il est né, le divine enfant;
Chantons tous son avènement.

or, as they say in English (and if they don't, they ought to):

He is born, the holy Child;
Play the oboes, sound the bagpipes!
He is born, the holy Child;
Let's all sing of His holy birth.

That's what Christmas is all about. Not yule logs and garlands of holly and lights in evergreen trees, which are actually ways ancient pagans in northern climes celebrated the winter solstice, beckoning the sun back from its southward journey. Christmas has nothing to do with snow and walking in a winter wonderland, either. The birth of the holy child probably didn't happen on December 25th. That date was chosen by early Christians to blend in with the Saturnalia, the celebration by the Romans of one of their gods, Saturn, and thereby escape detection. Detection by the Romans usually meant being thrown to hungry lions for the amusement of the masses or being soaked in oil and turned into human torches to light the Appian Way for the emperor. According to New Testament accounts, the shepherds were spending the night in the fields with their flocks, so the actual date of the birth was more likely in springtime, when the ewes were giving birth to lambs. Dashing through the snow in a one-horse, open sleigh may describe an old-fashioned winter in northern latitudes quite well, but the Holy Land is warm. It has palm trees. Think wise men riding on camels past oases in the desert. Not a snowflake or sleigh in sight.

And speaking of sleighs, Christmas is also not about gifts from Santa Claus, whose miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, plus Rudolph, may well cause the real St. Nicholas to spin in his grave. But gifts at least get closer to the heart of Christmas. Christmas is about the giving of a gift, one particular gift, the gift of a holy child to a lost and dying world from a God filled with love for each and every human being. God had such love for the world that He decided to do something to bridge the awful gap that had resulted from the first human disobedience (it's a long story). Here's what He did: He came Himself. He became Immanuel -- God with us -- to make restoration possible. Christmas, when the Word of God was made flesh, is about Jesus Christ, God's only-begotten Son, who became one of us to give His life a ransom for many and reconcile us to God. You can read all about it in the first couple of chapters of Matthew's gospel, Luke's gospel, and John's gospel in the New Testament.

Now that's a real reason to celebrate, maybe even by playing oboes and bagpipes!

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