Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
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Reason for the Season
By Dr. Richard P. Bucher
“Jesus is the reason for the season.” As I’ve grown in my understanding of Christ’s birth and the history of Christmas, I’ve also grown less fond of this slogan. Let me tell you why.
I don’t care for this slogan because I don’t know what it is supposed to mean and to whom it is supposed to be directed. “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Maybe. It depends what “season” one means. If the “season” refers to the season of Christmas, well, of course, Jesus is the reason for Christmas. But if “season” refers to December or the time of the winter solstice, then, no, Jesus is not the reason for that season.
If the slogan is intended for Christians who, in their busyness and obsession with customs and traditions and parties and gift-giving, have lost focus of the whole point of Christmas, then the slogan has merit. Christians definitely need to be reminded this time of year.
But if the slogan is intended to be a rant against the world by huffy Christians who feel that the season has been hijacked by other celebrations, as well as by commercialization and customs, it has little or no merit. But isn’t that exactly the context in which “Jesus is the reason for the season” is often used? Christians hear someone say “Happy holidays” and they become offended. “It’s Christmas!” they want to say. “It used to be that everyone celebrated Christmas this time of the year,” they think to themselves. “Now all these Johnny-come-lately festivals have sprung up, and now we have to give them equal billing. Ridiculous! Jesus is the reason for the season!”
But since when do Christians have a monopoly on December and the time of the winter solstice? From ancient times many cultures and religions have held celebrations at the time of the winter solstice (which falls on or around December 25). The winter solstice is that time of the year when the days begin to lengthen again. Darkness begins to give way to light. The increase of sunlight gave hope and joy to ancient people in the darkness and cold of winter. Some believed that their gods were in charge of the increase light and this led to religious celebrations. For example the Romans celebrated Saturnalia from Dec 17-24.
If anything, Christians were Johnny-come-latelies. Many cultures had been holding festivals at the time of the winter solstice for centuries when Christians decided to celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25 in the Third or Fourth Centuries. Recall that the Bible does not tell us the day or month that Christ was born. The best theory of why the Christians chose that day to celebrate Christ’s birth was to counteract the pagan festivals held at the same time (such as sol invictus, the feast of the Unconquered sun god).
The truth of the matter is that after a fairly long period of “having December to ourselves” in Europe and America, the field is becoming crowded again. Thus Christians have to learn to share. There is something in people that compels them to celebrate at the time of the winter solstice. And we are not going to stop them, nor should we.
Instead of anger we should try persuasion. Instead of responding to “Seasons greetings” or “Happy holidays” with irritation, we should see these greetings as opportunities to proclaim the good news. When a clerk hands us our bag at the mall and says, “Happy holidays,” why not say, “Thank you. I celebrate the birth of Jesus my Savior. How about you?” In Bible-belt Kentucky you will find that most people will say “Me too” and they will be strengthened in their faith. But some will be the unchurched who need to hear exactly what Christians are celebrating.
If we send out cards we should make sure that we send cards that clearly articulate the good news of what Jesus’ birth is all about; not cards that simply say “Merry Christmas” or, even worse, “Seasons greetings/happy holidays.”
And what is Jesus birth all about? The Christmas angels knew the answer. The angel said to Joseph: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). The angel said to the trembling shepherds, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Two statements of Paul complete the picture: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost;” (1 Tim 1:15) and “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5).
The eternal Son of God becomes man in order to save us from our sins and to restore to us the life of God. When we believe that he did this for us, we are forgiven and restored. That is Christmas.
“Jesus is the reason for the season.” Not bad, if used correctly. Even better would be something like “To forgive us, God sent Jesus, that is Christmas.”