Thursday 4 January 2024

Christmas is coming!

Waiting for Christmas? Many people have a long wait until their next Christmas. Some people have even a bit longer to wait.
Some groups observe Christmas on 7 January.
A larger number observe 25 December.

It appears this variation arises from different calendars. You may be interested to see the story of how Julius Caesar’s ancient calendar was swapped for Pope Gregory’s. (The change was intended to keep the seasons over time in line with the date.)

A somewhat curious story. One good thing is that anyone thinking about it may become aware that the accepted Jesus' birth “observances” are actually arbitrary. There is no definitive and reliable date for the events of Jesus’ life.

The same applies to locations that might be given special status. So, a tourist may be shown “exactly” where Jesus was born, where he died, where he was buried, where he was baptised. However, there can be no certainty. Broad location is one thing; specific places is another.

Who is right? Could it be possible at some time that history would be set aside in favour of another date? Would it matter?

Surely it was God’s plan that neither exact dates nor locations should be known. The status given to the practices of today are high enough! The incidentals are clearly unimportant.

There is no known surviving Jesus' execution document from the Romans, if there ever was one. It stands to reason that no inscription would record an obscure workman from a backwater. For a long time after that those who followed him were also negligible. That is compounded by the destruction of the ancient Jewish capital and homeland; the thorough violent Roman removal of the ancient nation.

What does it mean?
I recall what Jesus said:  But the hour is coming and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him (John 4:23, NRSVUE).
Worship of God, not religion, requires “spirit” and “truth”. Not dates, nor "holy days", nor relics.
Truth we find in what Jesus said, and in his Bible, and in the records made by his followers.
Spirit indicates internal and personal, rather than ceremonial, and relic based awe.

Looking again at Jesus’ words, with some context:
Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” ( John 4:21-24, NLT)
Some translators of the passage give greater prominence to the necessity of truth. The alternative is falsehood. Religious practice may actually lead away from worship of the true God. That leads back to the question, what is worship? What is worship of God?

Worship of God must be real, not fake. Essentially it is genuine submission to God’s will. With that goes living respect and obedience to God. The worshipper knows internally that they are so much less than God, and sets themselves to obey God’s word accordingly.

The same word may be used of the individual prostrating themselves before their mighty king. Or of any person giving honour to another.

Here are some examples of the common word used in the GNT:

He (Herod) told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, let me know. I also want to go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:8, CEV)
Did anyone believe what Herod said? Perhaps the visitors might have been fooled. The brutal ruler used the word saying he wanted to humble himself before the child. As if! His ferocious actions which followed showed what he had in mind.

Again, the devil took him (Jesus) to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” (Matthew 4:10, NRSVUE). Satan wanted Jesus to bow to him! Worship of Satan, or worship of the Lord? It is a case of one or the other. A choice must be made. 

In a long speech, Stephen laid it on the line for his outraged co-religionists, who were not going to be taken in by the man from Nazareth, or his followers. So Stephen said of their shared history:
Then God turned away from them and abandoned them to serve the stars of heaven as their gods! In the book of the prophets it is written,‘Was it to me you were bringing sacrifices and offerings during those forty years in the wilderness, Israel? No, you carried your pagan gods—the shrine of Molech, the star of your god Rephan, and the images you made to worship them. So I will send you into exile as far away as Babylon.’ “Our ancestors carried the Tabernacle with them through the wilderness. It was constructed according to the plan God had shown to Moses (Acts 7:42-44, NLT). God knew they worshipped the heavenly bodies. Grim fact. This is a fascinating re-telling of the Exodus from Egypt. They carried with them the portable tent "temple" (Tabernacle) and all the directions for sacrifices to the Lord. They said they obeyed the Lord.  Apparently in fact they held on to their pagan gods, perhaps acquired in Egypt. In a public sense, obedient worship of the Lord was carried on under Moses; in private it was another matter. Can the private contradict the public? 

People may genuinely humble themselves before another who is greater. So we see the word used: As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence (Acts 10:25, NIV). "In reverence" is a very "soft" translation. (The others I use all say Cornelius worshipped Peter.) Peter, of course, did not allow Cornelius to show him reverence. We read on: But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself. Peter had no doubt that worship was due only to God, not to man.

Only to God.

[BTW: there is another word for worship (less frequent in the GNT), which carries the idea of awe.]

See also:

May God bless you .
Allen Hampton

The Solar Year and the day.
The calendar issue arises because, we are told, it takes the earth 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 45.25 seconds to revolve around the sun and thus create the solar year. So the old poem, “except in February …”.
(I calculate that a solar year takes about 365.2422 revolutions of the earth.)

Addendum: I am aware of the existence of Chinese calendars, which seem to me to resemble the situation from before Julius Caesar in the Mediterranean world. Very complicated! Does not affect "Christmas", etc.

Scripture quotations marked (CEV) are from the Contemporary English Version Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.
Scripture quotations marked (CSB) are from the Christian Standard Bible. Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NRSVUE) are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition. Copyright © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission.

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