Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ (Jesus), the one who was anticipated in the Old Testament as God’s Messiah, the one sent by God to save God’s people. The Greek word “Christ “and the Hebrew word “Messiah” mean “anointed”, (with oil). The practice in ancient Israel was to anoint with oil a person installed into a specific office, for example, king or priest. So Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, is God’s anointed one. He is the one who comes from God, and so he is divine, and also fully human, born to Mary. At Christmas we speak of the “Incarnation”, that is, God becoming “enfleshed”.
Most sources suggest that there was a festival on December 25th which was originally linked to the pagan celebration of the winter solstice and that this later became the date to commemorate the incarnation of the eternal Son of God. There are old records that suggest that Christmas, on the 25th December, was being celebrated in Rome, as the birthday of Jesus, by the year 336. Traditionally, Christmas is a 12 day celebration which ends with the Epiphany, and the traditional church celebrations are woven around the stories in the gospels concerning Jesus’ birth. Baby Jesus is there in the crib scene with his mother; on our cards, in our carols and on the TV.
As we gaze at the baby we begin to see beyond the poverty, beyond his young and thoughtful mother, to understand that in all this God is at work. In Matthew’s gospel we’re told of another name given to Jesus, he’s also called “Immanuel”, which means “God with us”. In that Bethlehem stable the living loving God came to be with his people, and the new and very real thing that God was doing was seen, touched and heard.
The baby grew up and Jesus, Immanuel, became the friend of sinners and showed all who would see that the kingdom of God was one of healing, forgiveness, peace and justice.
Jesus didn’t remain a baby and neither did he remain a person in the past, confined for ever to the history of Bethlehem, Nazareth and Galilee. He is still Immanuel; he is still with us, even today. He is with us trough his Holy Spirit, in the lives of his followers, and in the love we give to each other and receive from each other. Immanuel, God with us, is always true; yesterday, today, for ever. God is with us at times of joy and success; He’s with us at moments of loss and despair. God is by our side when we’re busy and forgetful of Him, as much as when we stop to pray in the silence of our hearts. And it all began with the baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. Thank God for Christmas. It is a great celebration, combining the human need for a party to enliven the gloom of winter, the natural response to childbirth and the message of “Immanuel” – “God with us”.