It's almost Christmas! From twinkling lights and festive Christmas trees to beautifully-wrapped presents, Christmas is a day full of joy, giving, and holiday cheer. However, as we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season, it's easy to forget why we celebrate this special day. Here's a brief history of Christmas, along with some holiday Bible verses, to help us remember the reason for the season is Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the Savior of the world.
The History and Meaning of Christmas
The story of Jesus Christ's birth is told in New Testament gospels of Luke and Matthew. About 2,000 years ago, a young virgin named Mary, engaged to a man named Joseph, was told by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God. Shortly thereafter, Mary and Joseph left their home in Nazareth to travel to Joseph's ancestral home, Bethlehem, to enroll in the census ordered by the Roman emperor, Augustus. Finding no room in inns in the town, they set up primitive lodgings in a stable. There, Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Christ-child, in a manger, where she was visited by shepherds and wise men.
At the time of Christ's birth, a host of angels appeared, praising God saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
Christ's birth, which was predicted in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, is perhaps the single most important event in the history of Christianity, as God came to earth in the form of human flesh so that He could be crucified to save humanity from the curse of sin and death. Without Christ's birth, the hope of heaven would not exist.
No one knows for sure on what day Christ was born; however, Dionysus Exiguus, a sixth century monk, who was the first to date all of history from December 25th, the year of our Lord 1.Thus, Christmas is today celebrated annually on January 25th, and was officially named a federal holiday in 1870. Literally translated as "The Mass (or celebration) of Christ, Christmas is both a "sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon."
The date of December 25th was originally a Roman holiday called "Saturnalia," a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25. Variations of this pagan holiday flourished throughout the first few centuries after Jesus Christ, but it probably wasn't until 336 AD that Emperor Constantine officially converted this pagan tradition into the Christian holiday of Christmas, known as the "Feast of the Nativity." By the end of the eighth century, the celebration had spread all the way to Scandinavia.
Christmas Traditions and Celebrations
There are some religious and secular traditions observed on December 25th, including festive decorations, Christmas trees, gift-giving, holiday parties, Christmas carolling, and many more. Santa Claus -- based on the historical Christian figure St. Nicholas -- is also a traditional Christmas figure, known for his generosity and gift-giving to children.
Many Christians attend church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, where the story of Jesus' birth is retold, and Christmas hymns and carols are often sung.
Throughout his brief life, Jesus showed the world how God's favor rests with the poor and downtrodden. Thus, Christmas is also considered a day of generosity and giving; many people give to charities or volunteer at local shelters on Christmas day to show good will towards humankind.
Christmas Bible Verses
This Christmas, let's reflect on these Bible verses in thanksgiving of the greatest gift ever given to the world - Jesus Christ.
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)
"You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all." (Acts 10:36)
"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:8-14)
"God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
"But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship." (Galatians 4:4-5)