Saturday, December 22, 2012

Day 22: The Longest Night

Most Christians now realize that the date of Jesus' actual birth was not on December 25th, but most scholars seem to believe it was actually sometime in September, likely between the 16th and 29th, during the Feast of the Tabernacles.  The Christmas celebration was officially set to December 25th in 354 AD in an effort to hijack the pagan celebrations of Saturnalia, which celebrates the Winter Solstice and the coming lengthening of daylight and lasts the entire week of December 21/22 (which makes the whole "I'm going to boycott stores that say 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas'" all the more ridiculous, because Christians usurped the season should be pagans boycotting stores because they refuse to say "Happy Saturnalia"...but I'll get down off my soapbox before I go too far down this tangent!).  Even if the original intent of setting December 25th as the day to celebrate Christ's birth was to usurp the celebration of Saturnalia, having the celebration of Christ's birth come during the darkest time of year can be a great symbol of what Christ means to a fallen world.

The Gospel of John does not have an account of Christ's birth, but it does start with a very interesting account of Jesus' history from antiquity until the time of His birth.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  -John 1:1-9 

There was approximately 430 years between the time the Old Testament accounts ended and the New Testament accounts of Jesus' birth begin.  These 430 years can be seen as "the longest night".  The great biblical prophesies ended with Malachai in about 435 BC.  It wasn't until John the Baptist and then very shortly after, Jesus Himself, came that there were any other great prophets of God.  Though God obviously wasn't "absent", it was definitely a dry spell for the Israelites.

Unfortunately, when that dry spell ended, and the Great Light came to end this long night, only some of the Israelites recognized the Light.  Although there were a multitude of prophesies in the Old Testament directly pointing to Jesus as the Messiah, many of the Jews had become so prideful about their beliefs being correct and about their own observance of Jewish tradition making them holy that they would rather cling to this "long night" and ignore the great Revelation coming to them.  It was as if their entire identity and worth had been so wrapped up in observing traditional Jewish law, that when God finally fulfilled His promise of delivering the Messiah, they coveted their former identity and self-righteousness more than they wanted the Salvation that Christ meant.

In other words, they put traditions of the world and their own pride and self-righteousness above a relationship with the Almighty.  They clung to the longest night and are still there to this day.

How many of us, though we recognize Jesus as the Christ, are still living in a long night because of our insistence on earthly tradition and self-righteousness?

It is one thing to cling to a tradition that is spelled out in scripture (such as taking communion).  But there are so many silly traditions and things that give us worldly righteousness that we cling to that many times we miss Jesus.  Such as (and these are things I've experienced first hand):

-a church erupting in an out and out civil war about whether the 1928 version of the hymn book is the only acceptable version for worship (because you know everyone embraced the it as the absolute perfect and holy hymn book when the 1928 version was the "new" version)

-people saying that the 1611 version of the Old King James Bible is the only acceptable bible translation (because that is the version of the Bible the apostle Paul used, right???)

-an out and out "cold war" erupting over whether purple or navy blue is the appropriate color for the season of Advent (because you know Jesus was a complete fashionista and only wore the season's trendiest colors!)

-people getting up and leaving a church service because a woman is speaking that morning instead of a man (because I'm sure God loves it when He is trying to deliver a blessing to someone and His Children look at Him and say, "No thank you.  I only will accept Your guidance and blessing if a man is giving it to me.  Sorry God.  Do better next time!")

-saying that the only way you will be accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven is by having your body completely immersed in water (because God really could care less about your submission or accepting Him as your Savior.  He only cares about what percentage of your body got wet.)

I could go on and on and on.  It's not the tradition themselves that are the problem, but that we cling to them like the religious elite did and view our way as the obviously more "righteous" way to do them.  It is when we are so busy looking down our nose at everyone else doing it "wrong" that we miss Jesus standing next to us saying "drop all that craziness and follow Me."

So this Christmas, let Jesus and Jesus alone be the Light that ends the long night.  It isn't Christian tradition that brings light to the world.  It is Christ Himself.

Activity:  Make a list of Christmas traditions you cling to.  It can be church things, such as going to a midnight service or having to sing certain songs, or it can be other things like having to have a ham at Christmas dinner or having to go to this person's house on Christmas Eve.  If those things were suddenly gone, would they hurt your celebration of Jesus coming into the world?  As an extra credit activity, consider going to a different church's Christmas service.  Even more points if it is a church service of a different denomination.  Realize that even though they may be doing things different, they are worshiping the same Christ!

Prayer:  Pray that Jesus' light comes in and ends the longest night.  Pray that His light can overcome the darkness of evil in this world.  And pray that Christ inside of you can make you a beacon of His light to the world around you.


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