Think Christmas is over? I hope not.
We landed in Athens, Greece one year on January 6. We had heard stories of traffic gridlock in Athens, but on this day the streets were almost empty. What was going on? It was Christmas! Greece and most of the Eastern Orthodox countries don’t observe Christmas on December 25, but January 6 or 7.
The birth of Jesus was not even observed in the early church. The focus was on his death and resurrection and with good reason. The gospel writers devoted approximately one-third of their writings to the final week in the life of Jesus. The cross and resurrection are at the very heart of our understanding of the Christian faith. Two of the four gospels say nothing at all about the Nativity. Since the crucifixion occurred during Passover, the church knew when to observe it each year. No one knows when Jesus was actually born, but it wasn’t on December 25 or January 6. No good shepherd would have his flocks abiding in the fields on a cold winter night.
When the Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian, the date of December 25 was selected to celebrate the birth of the savior. The Romans already had a big celebration named Saturnalia (for the Roman God Saturn) that was held to celebrate the Winter Solstice that they thought was December 25. It became a natural time to celebrate the birth of God’s only son.
When the Gregorian calendar was developed, Orthodox churches refused to change from the old Julian calendar. December 25 on the old Julian calendar is January 6 or 7 on the Gregorian calendar, which is why Christmas is celebrated later in Greece and other Eastern countries. Hence we have the 12 days of Christmas with a partridge in a pear tree.
Why stop with 12 days of Christmas? What if we kept the Christmas spirit of love, kindness, and giving all year? One of the greatest preachers of the 20th Century, Dr. Peter Marshall, suggested keeping Christmas in a 1950 sermon that we would say today, “went viral.”
Dr. Marshall with his spell-bounding Scottish brogue proclaimed: “I thank God for Christmas. Would that it lasted all year! For I have observed that at Christmas all the world is a better place, and men and women are move loveable. Love itself seeps into every heart, and miracles happen.”
In this epic sermon Peter Marshall addresses the “sophistication” that says Christmas belongs only to children. He says, “The older you get, the more it means, if you know what it means. Christmas, though forever young, grows old along with us.”
He concluded his powerful sermon with the challenge to keep Christmas all year. “So we will not “spend” Christmas or “observe” Christmas. We will “keep” Christmas in our hearts that we may be kept in its hope.”
That may be the best New Year’s resolution of all, to keep Christmas all year. Keep the spirit of generous giving, keep the spirit of kindness, keep the spirit of peace and reconciliation. My prayer for 2018 is that the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of Christ, will fill us with faith, hope, and love. Let’s keep Christmas all year!