Out Our Way: Dawn! - 2 Peter 3:13
Last updated 12/30/2021 at 8:20am
Out our way, dawn is especially welcome in winter. The sun sets early and the sun rises late - and in between it gets really cold! More than once I have wondered if it was ever coming as I stomped my feet, ribbed my hands and even ole Doc shivered as I sat watching with hopeful eyes the eastern ridges.
As many of you know, the date we celebrate Christmas was chosen by the early Church during the time of great persecution. The pagans hunted down, abused, robbed and even killed believers. To survive, the Church needed to blend in. That is why the pagan festival of the Winter Solstice was selected. Deep in the cold of December, the long nights and short days began to reverse. On the shortest day and longest night of the year, the pagans celebrated their faith that the sun would begin to shine again and the depths of the winter darkness begin to be pushed aside for the new life and sunshine that was ahead.
Although Christ was likely born during lambing season - which in Israel was around April - to set aside a day only recognized by Christians would have exposed the infant Church to the pagan leaders who only too happily sent many believers to their death, often in the arena to be slaughtered by starving wild animals. Solstice was a time of universal celebration already - and Christians would understand not only why they had to blend in, but the significance of celebrating the joy to the world birth of Christ signified. We, too, celebrate the promise of the growing light and warmth of a new dawning.
Now, I grant that the commercialization of Christmas has led to may pagan symbols being mixed in, but perhaps we should realize that, like the Solstice celebration, it is possible to "Christianize" those symbols and discover a deeper theology hidden within.
The giving of gifts was never limited to Christian beliefs, but we can use the practice to remind us of the Wise Men coming to Bethlehem. "Santa Claus" - Latin for "Saint Klaus", i.e. Nicholas - is actually based on a real man. Nicholas was an early bishop in modern-day Turkey in the 3rd Century when pagan Rome still ruled its empire. Noted for many acts of love and charity as well as miracles, St. Nicholas is perhaps best-remembered for when he was spotted dropping coins in a sock down the chimney of a very poor family late at night, and the word spread. Although most have forgotten the origins of such aspects of the faith blending in with the secular, it is there for those who want to see; and I am sure there are other examples to be found to anyone with Google and a curious mind.
Now comes the New Year - traditionally a time to let go of the past and look ahead to the future by seeking to challenge the present. New year's resolutions are a form of "confession," which in the Christian tradition is not merely being sorry for past wrongs we have committed but seeking to change our ways. Few follow the traditional Rite of Confession or go to the official "Confessional" these days, but true repentance is not about what we say, but what we do. It is a reminder that Christmas not only celebrates the birth of Jesus, but also the great "do over," His life, death and resurrection offer to any who will accept it.
On Christmas Eve, homes, neighborhoods and whole towns are lit up with festive lights to remind us that even on the darkest night, the hope of dawn remains. And in case you missed it, the New Year's fireworks and loud celebrations carry the same message.
The Rev. John Bruington is the retired pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Havre. He now lives in Colorado, but continues to write "Out Our Way." He can be reached for comment or dialogue at [email protected]