12/6/2010 – Lisa Fabrizio -
The conclusion of Thanksgiving, originally a day of solemn acknowledgement that all that we have that is good is a gift from God, brings us to the celebration of the greatest gift from our Creator: the incarnation of our Savior, Jesus Christ. And just as many have seen fit to ignore the giving of thanks to God on Thanksgiving Day, so too have countless others deigned to divorce the birth of Christ from Christmas.
The reasons for this disturbing disconnect vary, but the main one seems to be that the worship of the deity recognized by the great majority of those in this country might be the cause of offense for a few; God himself excepted of course. And so in a few weeks we will commence the season of attempts at discrediting Christianity and its founder while distancing Christmas from any connection with him.
One of the most common ploys will be to claim that the date itself is nothing more than a pagan observance. Most scholars have agreed that the date of December 25 derived from pagan Rome’s celebration of the Natalis Invicti; birth of the deity, Mithra, the Sun God. But this should not, as has become fashionable, justify the notion that Christianity is an offshoot of paganism, even though Scripture is filled with literary allusions to the Sun of God.
For just as the celebrations of the first Christians coincided with Jewish festivals because they, as the spiritual children of Abraham, shared in the first covenant, so too the first children of the Church, established in Rome by Saints Peter and Paul, shared in a synergetic relationship with the pagans whose worship of Mithra contained many Christian elements.
But the choice of the Natalis Invictis as the celebration of the birth of Christ was meant to draw pagans away from the worship of nature to that of nature’s God. Indeed, early Church fathers felt that the philosophies of the ancient Greeks and much of pagan worship found their completion and perfection in Christ. A perfect example of this may still be experienced today by visiting the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome; a three-tiered edifice consisting of the present day basilica erected in the Middle Ages on top of a 4th-century basilica, the basement of which served also as a Mirthrian temple.
Whatever the origin of the date of Christmas, and despite the fact that it was not officially commemorated by the Church until the 4th century, it is celebrated by believers today as a sign of God’s love and fidelity to his promise of redemption. Yet the war against Christmas continues apace. But so ingrained is it in our collective culture, that its symbols remain a large part even of its commercialization. So as you wince at the Madison Avenue aspects of Christmas, meditate on both the Christian and pagan signs that the Promised One is indeed coming.
The first and greatest is Santa Claus; that dear and prolific huckster for everything from baby dolls to tire chains. How different is he from the real St. Nicholas of Myra, the 4th-century bishop from Asia Minor, whose reputation for Christian charity emerged largely from the legend which suggests that he saved three young girls from lives of prostitution by throwing three purses of gold coins into the window of their house to provide their destitute father with suitable dowries for them. The purses were said to have landed in the shoes of the girls, hence the custom of putting out shoes or stockings to be filled on Christmas Eve.
From the veneration of this great saint come the symbols of his office as bishop: the headdress, or mitre, which is shaped like a tongue of fire, such as descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost and his crozier or shepherd’s crook, which distinguishes him as head of a great flock of the faithful. From these come Santa hats and candy canes.
Then there is Sacred Scripture. The knowledge of angels predates Christianity, as the word angel comes from the Greek word for messenger. The Old Testament contains many references to these spiritual beings, particularly to the Archangel Gabriel, who in the New Testament brought the message of salvation to a waiting world. And the custom of giving presents, which some claim has commercialized Christmas, was originally done in imitation of the gifts of the Magi to the baby Jesus.
The pagan tradition of decorating holly bushes and evergreens represents the hope of the return of the sun and an end to the darkness of winter, while the Christian usage of festive lights and candles speaks to the same hope; the coming of the Light of the World.
So this year, even though no mention is made of the birth of our Savior, when you pass houses festooned with lights to brighten winter’s darkness, or trees festively decorated; when you see your co-workers arrayed in Santa hats or survey the myriads of candy canes that will deck the display cases of countless merchants, think of the source of the love engendered in the heart of the real St. Nicholas as well as the hope of pagans: the King of Kings and Prince of Peace who, regardless of the date of his nativity, has come.