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Love Came Down At Christmas: (the L-o-n-g History of Christmas)

Joy To The World! Love Came Down At Christmas: (the l-o-n-g history of our holiday)

Believers around the world celebrate Christmas as the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. What a blessing that miraculous event has been, the Son of God becoming the Son of Man as well!

But so few people knew!

But God knew! This was His plan from before the world began. He had created us as good, noble beings to live with Him forever, but the devil sabotaged this plan. The devil used the free will God had given us to trick us into the same sin he had chosen, thinking we knew better that the One who created us.

You know the story how he seduced Adam* and Eve* to doubt God’s goodness and let their own nature decide what was best. This put sin between them and God; their fellowship was broken, and they were on their way to death and perdition.

What the devil did not understand was that God was not taken by surprise by this. He knew exactly how this would happen and had an even better way of showing His love for us – giving His only begotten Son to die in our place, to wash away our sins and restore us to that relationship that everlasting life would bring.

But such a thing was impossible – the Son of God could not die! He was immortal, the Eternal Word through whom and by whom all things were created.

What was the answer? This divine being had to step out of His eternal glory and become human, a flesh and blood man just like us when we were created, noble and good, and sinless too. And that is the beginning of the story of Christmas!

If you have been reading this blog or the Bible, you know that Jesus said: I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Revelation 22:13

As the eternal Word He has been with the Father in Eternity forever. Christmas is about the transition He made from Eternity to this earth. St. John puts it like this:

And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth. John 1:14

How did that take place?

BC: History of Christmas Before Christ

4000 BC: The first inkling of His birth is given in the Garden of Eden when God tells the serpent: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Genesis 3:15

1450 BC: God gave a prophecy to Balaam* linking Jesus’ birth to the star of Bethlehem: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel: Numbers 24:17

1000 BC: The prophet Nathan assured David* that his Son would inherit his throne:

And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever. -2 Samuel 7:16 Jesus* is called “the Son of David” 16 times in the New Testament.

742 BC: Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isa_7:14 God gave this wonderful promise to wicked king Ahaz, who would not receive it. He also told us something miraculous about this Savior to come.

653 BC: But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. Micah_5:2

This is the very verse the Wise Men got from King Herod* to find Jesus!

537 BC: Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: Daniel 9:25

This famous “70 weeks” prophecy God gave to Daniel*, tells us Jesus would come 490 years after the rebuilding of the temple in 473 BC. This was commonly known among the Jews and explains why Herod and the wise men were anticipating His birth.

5 BC: There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. - Luke 2:1

This signaled the start of Joseph’s and Mary’s* trip to Bethlehem where our Redeemer was born. Only Joseph and Mary were there, and they gave their testimonies to Matthew and Luke, whose Gospels are the only accounts we have.

AD: History of Christmas After Jesus was Born

How then did this day become the most popular Christian celebration? Where did our Christmas holiday begin? To start, Christmas is different from His nativity, i.e., the day He was born.

In fact, the word “Christmas” did not even come into being until more than 1,000 years after Jesus was born. Read on!

50 AD: Matthew writes his Gospel with information he could have received only through Joseph, including the wonderful command: thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. – Matthew 1:21

60 AD: Luke writes his Gospel with information he could have received only through Mary, including the words of the angel: thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Luke 1:31-33

The Bible does not tell us the specific date Jesus was born, but here are a few steps that bring us to that determination:

150-215: Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD) wrote “some believed the date was May 20 or April 20 or 21.”

180: Apostles’ creed states: He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.

221: Sextus Julius Africanus wrote a “universal history” and named March 25 as the day of creation and of the conception of Jesus. This implies that December 25 would be His birthday.

Christmas in Roman days

336: The first mention of a “Christmas” holiday in Rome was recorded in these words: "25 Dec.: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae." “Birth of Christ in Bethlehem of Judaea.”

This date was accepted at once in Rome and shortly after in the rest of the empire. It has never been challenged since, and Christians began to celebrate and commemorate the day.

340-397 St. Ambrose wrote the first Christmas hymn: Veni, Redemptor gentium, (Come Redeemer of Mankind) an enduring hymn for the occasion, still sung today.

354-430 St. Augustine preached several sermons on Christ’s nativity, his theme being God became man: Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.

Christmas in the Middle Ages

454: Fall of Rome and recession of Christmas celebrations. With no centralized celebration of the feast, different communities observed it in different ways, but none of these has been documented.

800: Charlemagne* was crowned Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day in 800. With this event, the holiday became once again an important calendar event.

Charlemagne himself could not read and neither could the vast majority of Europe, most of whom were still pagans.

As missionary efforts proved successful, people followed their kings’ conversion to Christianity and began to learn about Christmas themselves. This education came through cultural means, drama, art, and music.

1200: Nativity cycle plays produced and presented in traveling wagons.

1223: St. Francis of Assisi* sponsors Nativity scenes.

Christmas after the Reformation

1483[2] – 1546) Martin Luther*, wrote carols and encouraged their use in worship.

1539: Christmas tree placed in the Cathedral of Strassburg

1647: Christmas banned by Puritan Parliament in England.

1659: Christmas banned in Boston

1660: Christmas restored by Charles II

1751: Adeste Fideles, O Come, All Ye Faithful

1784 "Deck the Halls"

1823: ‘Twas the night before Christmas….. poem.

1833: First appearance in print of "The First Noel", “Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

1841: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert decorate Christmas trees and they become popular.

1843: Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol published, and the first commercial Christmas cards were produced.

1870: Christmas was formally declared a United States federal holiday.

Christmas in the 20th and 21st Centuries

1949: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Gene Autry #1 song.

1954: “White Christmas” movie and song

1984: Supreme Court Rules in favor of Nativity Displays.

2000: War on Christmas

2011: God sent into the world a unique Person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important as they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive. Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas message.

The Christmas story is still widely known, but commercialism and pop culture have taken over the simple Bible narrative. I just looked over the top 62 Christmas movies and not one is about Jesus or that first nativity in Bethlehem.

Sadly, our country and the West in general are turning away from the Gospel, but, Praise God, third-world people are coming to Jesus as never before and having their lives changed.

But among evangelical Christians the story is different, and we are still celebrating this blessed event by teaching our children about Jesus and asking Him to be born in us. Please join me in doing the same this Christmas and singing this wonderful song:

"O Holy Child of Bethlehem,

Descend to us, we pray.

Cast out our sin, and enter in,

Be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels,

The great glad tidings tell.

Oh come to us, abide with us,

Our Lord Emmanuel!" - Phillips Brooks

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