Are you ready for Christmas in March? When we began our read-through of the Bible using “The Story,” the reading dates coincided so that we would study Easter at around the same date as Easter itself. But that meant that our study of the Christmas story would not happen in December. We were barely to the story of King Solomon in December, over 900 years before the birth of Jesus. So we paused “The Story,” celebrated Christmas, and resumed reading through the Old Testament. Now we find ourselves finally studying the New Testament – and celebrating once again the birth of Jesus, this time on March 1st.
I find that rather fitting, actually. There is a school of thought that places the birth of Jesus later in the year- possibly summer or fall. The reasoning goes something like this. Shepherds would have found shelter for their flocks during the rainy winter, and would not have been in the fields with them until later in the spring, summer, or fall. In addition, a Roman census would not have taken place when the roads were bad (also in the winter) but more likely in the summer when travel was easier for all concerned. But because of the lack of direct evidence as to a date for Christmas, the early Christians chose December 25th. That date coincided with the winter solstice which theologically coincided with the coming of the light of the world as proclaimed by the Gospel of John.
Hearing the good news of the birth of Jesus at a time other than Christmas gives us the opportunity to reflect on that good news in a new way. What does it mean that Jesus, the Son of God, was born as one of us?
The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola include this prayerful reflection about the birth of Jesus. As we prepare to hear this story anew, perhaps you would like to join me in contemplating an imaginary conversation with the Trinity as they are:
“looking upon our world: men and women being born and being laid to rest, some getting married and others getting divorced, the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the happy and the sad, so many people aimless, despairing, hateful, and killing, so many undernourished, sick, and dying, so many struggling with life and blind to any meaning. With God, I can hear people laughing and crying, some shouting and screaming, some praying, others cursing.” [David Fleming’s translation].Then after contemplating the world as it is, the Trinity decides to send Jesus to be our savior. Reflect for a moment on what they observed, the contrast between God’s ideal and human reality. Imagine what their conversation may have been like. Was this the time? Was this the place? How should Jesus come to them?
This imaginary conversation is rooted in the words of the Apostle Paul in the letter to the Philippians, where he reminds us:
“Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:5-11)
This Lenten season as we prepare once again to celebrate Easter Sunday, let’s begin with Christmas.
With thanks in Christ,