Tonight, December 24 in the US marks another occasion. On this night 49 years ago, Christmas eve of 1968, Apollo 8 was on the world's first mission to the moon. Like sailors sailing out of sight of land for the first time, man was leaving the safety of our big rock for the first time. We were becoming a space-faring population. Here on the ground, 1968 had been a tumultuous year but we were united in watching the Apollo 8 mission in a way few things have united Americans.
I suppose that like most people alive then, I'll never forget that. I can't imagine the world of trouble a modern crew would be in for what they read back to Earth from about 1:10 on.
Churches, like all groups, have personalities, and in the one I attend, it would be remarkable to toss a wadded up paper ball and not hit an engineer, nurse, doctor, or a tech professional. It's not news to this bunch that most people say we have no real idea when Jesus was born and that the December 25th date comes from adapting to the Roman Saturnalia or other pagan holidays; nor would they be shocked if you told them Christmas has more secular than holy traditions associated with it and many things that are totally ingrained in the holiday traditions started out as advertising gimmicks. There was no little drummer boy when the events we portray as the nativity happened; in fact, the entire scene we call the nativity is a conglomeration of bits and pieces from multiple Gospels, and certainly did not happen within the first couple of days of Jesus' life. Nobody knows how many magi ("wise men") came to visit the child; we say three because of the three gifts listed, but it could have been almost any number. Furthermore, it wasn't at his birth; it was when Jesus was closer to two years old.
A friend sent me this contribution on the question of the exact date.
The truth is we simply don’t know the exact date of our Savior’s birth. In fact, we don’t even know for sure the year in which He was born. Scholars believe it was somewhere between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C. One thing is clear: if God felt it was important for us to know the exact date of the Savior’s birth, He certainly would have told us in His Word. The Gospel of Luke gives very specific details about the event, even down to what the baby was wearing – “swaddling clothes”—and where he slept—“in a manger” (Luke 2:12). These details are important because they speak of His nature and character, meek and lowly. But the exact date of His birth has no significance whatsoever, which may be why God chose not to mention it.I've heard another explanation for why December 25th was chosen. It's close to the solstice, the longest night of the year - which made it the darkest night of the year in those days. Jesus was the light of the world, and the symbolism of bringing light when things are at their darkest fits perfectly with the story. If someone came out with a convincing line of evidence that Jesus really was born on December 25th, I'd be surprised... but not terribly shocked. Again, paraphrasing that previous quote, not that it matters.
"And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more." -- Dr. Seuss
Hold close the ones you love. If we're very lucky, this will be the worst Christmas of our lives and everything in life gets better year by year for the rest of our lives. And if things get worse, we'll remember this as the "good old days". Either way, hold tight. And do it "before you dot another 'i' or cross another 't', Bob Cratchit!"
It's one my of my blessings that a group of really great folks stop by here to share my blather - Google says about a 1500 of you every day, which blows my mind. Thanks.
So however you mark this day, enjoy it well. Spend time with family or friends or both. Remember the good service members deployed far from home. If you're Military, LEO, or fire; EMT, Nurse or MD, and are one who must work while the rest of us rest, thank you.