Some folks I know can be a bit cynical about Christmas, so I wanted to address a couple of different areas of Christmas stuff.
Christmas is when we celebrate Jesus’ birth, God coming to earth. We don’t know when exactly that happened during the year. Some scholars feel that because the shepherds were out in the fields with their flocks, it points to a particular time of year, but I really don’t know. The Christmas date at the end of December was because the celebration of Christ’s birth took over a Roman winter solstice holiday.
Jesus also wasn’t born in a barn because there was no room at the inn. The word we have translated as “inn” over these many centuries is actually the same word used for the “upper room” where Jesus and the disciples celebrated that first communion supper, the night that Judas betrayed Jesus. It is likely instead that Jesus was born in the main area of a house rather than in the privacy of an upper room reserved for guests, as so many people had come to Bethlehem to be counted in the Roman census.
We think Jesus was born sometime between 4-6 B.C. We know this because Herod, who died in 2 B.C., was king of that area of the world. Luke tells us that Quirinius was the governor, so that narrows the window of Jesus’ birth further.
Some people feel Herod wouldn’t have killed all those baby boys, so that part of the story can’t possibly be true. Let me tell you, Herod was a monster. He killed several of his own sons, his favorite wife and ordered 10,000 of the most important people in Israel to be rounded up and slaughtered when he died so that there would be weeping and wailing at his death. The people were rounded up but subsequently let go by Herod’s son. So the killing of some babies in Bethlehem by Herod’s troops would have been tragic for the parents but hardly news in an area jaded by Herod’s cruelty.
I am not in favor of perpetuating myths about Jesus life. I want to know what really happened, because I am not interested in worshipping or committing my life to a series of fairy tales. I am committed to knowing Jesus through the events of His life, through His words to the people in ancient times, which still apply to me today (and are still challenging!).
God really came to earth, took on human flesh and was one of us. This is what fascinates me year after year at Christmas. God became human. To let us know exactly what He expected of us, and how we were to act and follow Him, He came. Life for humans has never been the same. When we finally understand that God knows us and came for us – and He did – our lives have to be changed by that information.
So, this year don’t focus on the presents or the lights or the latest Christmas movie that celebrates some sort of “Spirit of Christmas,” which is nebulous but has a warm, fuzzy feeling. Focus on getting to know the real Jesus, who really came, in Bethlehem, a real place, to a young couple, to save the people of the world from themselves.
The Rev. David Moore is pastor of Union Presbyterian Church of Los Altos, 858 University Ave. For more information, call 948-4361 or visit unionpc.org.