We don’t know when the original Christmas Day was. Scholars have worked hard to determine Christ’s real birthday, but there is no general agreement. Most scholars come no closer than an estimate of the year: 6-4 BC. We don’t know the day of the week or time of year. Given the weather in Israel, it is highly unlikely that snow lay on the ground.
It is widely believed that Christians have appropriated a pagan holiday that celebrated the winter solstice and designated it as the time to celebrate Jesus’s incarnation. Even though this might not represent actual history, it works very well as a metaphor. Celebrating Christmas in winter is not merely a strategy to break up the dreary winter months. It provides an excellent illustration of the need for a Messiah. Just as the winter is associated with cold and darkness, so this world is cold and dark in sin. We don’t merely need a break from the dreary weather; we need hope and redemption from sin. C.S. Lewis describes our current world as “enemy-occupied territory,” a world under the influence of Satan and enslaved to sin. Christ’s coming is an invasion to reclaim His creation and His creatures, not unlike the Allies’ invasion of France that began the defeat of Germany in World War II. Celebrating Christmas in the winter is an excellent reminder that as Christmas comes in the dark and cold winter, Jesus has come to our dark and cold sin-sick world, and to us. And although the Christmas season is full of twinkling lights, Christmas carols, and decking our halls, the darkness and emptiness that sometimes threaten our hearts and souls need not be ignored. In fact, it makes Jesus’s invasion, as our rescue, all the sweeter and makes our Christmas celebration all the richer. Celebrating Christmas even in the midst of pain and struggle is truly the most genuine way to celebrate Christmas. It is a recognition that we need Christ, and He has come!
Celebrating Christmas at the winter solstice also provides a helpful illustration of the work of Christ. John proclaims Jesus as the Light of the world. And just as daylight begins to increase after the winter solstice, Jesus, once arrived, brings more and more light to the world and to our lives. This brings with it a challenge. As the light of Christ becomes brighter in our lives, more of our sin is exposed, and we encounter more opportunities to confess and repent. This may seem contrary to the spirit of the holiday, but in fact it is at its core: we celebrate because Jesus came to save us from our sin. If we had no sin, we would have no reason to celebrate. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” As we submit to Christ’s Lordship, He becomes our ever-brightening light. And in this way, we can pledge with Ebenezer Scrooge “to honor Christmas in our hearts, and try to keep it all the year.”
Christians are often reminded to “keep Christ in Christmas.” I do not believe that this means, as some would have it, that we need to be more solemn about this holiday. In fact, the more we understand the significance of Christ coming to overcome the darkness and cold in our souls and in our world, the more we have to celebrate. Come, Lord Jesus!