Author Archives: Bob Rogers
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
The Beginning of the Christmas Holiday
The answer to that question is submerged under a haze of mystery. An early father of the church, Cyprian, said in 243 that Christ was born on March 28, the spring equinox, for “on that day which the sun was made on the same day was Christ born.” However, Christ’s birthday was not celebrated until the fourth century, and when the tradition of Christmas began, the date of December 25 was preferred in the West, while January 6 was preferred in the East (a date that is still preferred by Eastern Orthodox Christians).
The earliest known reference to celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 was in the Philocalian Calendar, a list of martyrs of the Roman Church, written in 354 but reflecting practices in 336. In 376, the bishop of Rome first required churches to keep the nativity festival on December 25. In 386, John Chrysostom refers to the date of the December 25 festival by saying, “It is not yet the tenth year since this day has become clearly known to us.” Ironically, Christmas was celebrated in Bethlehem on January 6 until the sixth century (since Bethlehem was under the influence of the Eastern tradition). After the sixth century, Bethlehem celebrated Christmas on December 25, because Emperor Justin II (565-578) ordered the celebration of Christmas on December 25 throughout the Roman empire.
The Origin of the Date of Christmas
There are two major theories of the origin of these dates: one with pagan roots, and one with Christian roots.
The most commonly accepted theory is that the date was chosen, perhaps by Emperor Constantine, to divert the attention from pagan holidays. Emperor Aurelian had established a pegan winter solstice festival on December 25, 274, and he probably dedicated a temple to the sun god on that date. Egyptians celebrated the birthday of the son god Aion on January 6. Many people contend that Christmas should not be celebrated because of this possible connection to pagan origins. Ironically, some of these same people will themselves seek to replace the pagan celebration of Halloween with a Harvest Festival at their churches, in much the same way as they claim the early Christians celebrated Jesus’ birth to replace a pagan holiday.
Thomas J. Talley, in his book, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, argues that the dates of both December 25 and January 6 can be explained from Christian origins. In rabbinic thought, it was common to remember the conception and death day of patriarchs on the same day. By putting Jesus’ conception on the Jewish day of 14 Nisan (March 25 on the Western calendar and April 6 on the Eastern calendar), His birth nine months later would be either December 25 (according to the Western calendar) or January 6 (according to the Eastern calendar). Thus the birth of Christ could have been set “without reference to pagan public celebrations,” says Talley.
Since Luke 2:8 says the shepherds were outdoors with their flocks when the angel announced Christ’s birth to them, Cyprian’s date of March 28 is probably closer to the actual birthday of Jesus than the colder times of December 25 of January 6. Some would argue that since there is no historical evidence for Jesus’ birth on these dates, that we should not celebrate Christmas. However, there is another piece of the puzzle from history that would argue otherwise. In the fourth century, when the Christmas holiday became popular, Christians were in the midst of a raging controversy of what they believed about Jesus Christ. By celebrating Christmas, orthodox Christians were able to affirm the important doctrine of the Incarnation, that Jesus was God in the flesh. For example, Chrysostom, who himself stated that the festival of December 25 was a relatively new celebration in his time, went on to say this about its importance:
“This day He who is, is born; and He who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man… being the Word, He became flesh…”
All Is Well: A Story for Christmas is different from other children’s Christmas books for several reasons. It is on the reading level of an older child, perhaps about fifth grade. It is on the emotional level of a single mom who is struggling to make ends meet at Christmas. The story takes place in July, not during the Christmas season. Yet is most certainly a Christmas story, especially for those who going through tough times during the holidays.
If you are looking for a cute Christmas book for your child, this is not your book. But if you need encouragement to make it through Christmas, this may be the best book you could read, especially to a child who doesn’t understand why God is allows suffering and hard times.
In my list of favorite children’s Christmas books, I have to include the classic book that I loved when I was a child, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss. This beloved book has been made into a popular cartoon TV show, that includes the song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” In recent years, a live-action movie was also made, but I still prefer the cartoon that follows the book word-for-word. It is hard to improve on the whimsical rhyme of Dr. Seuss.
Most readers already know the story, of how the Grinch couldn’t stand the noise that all the “Who’s down in Whoville” made on Christmas morning. So he decided to steal all of their toys on Christmas Eve. What he never anticipated was that they would still sing on Christmas morning without any presents at all. I love the climactic lines:
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!/ It came without packages, boxes or bags!”/ And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. / Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!/ “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store./ Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”
The changed heart of the Grinch has put the word “Grinch” next to “Scrooge” in the Christmas vocabulary of the English language. Every child deserves a chance to hear a parent or grandparent read it to him or her directly from the book, and follow it with a heartfelt discussion about the real meaning of Christmas.
Imagine the famous poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” told in the dialect of south Louisiana, with St. Nicholas gliding across the bayou, with “eight alligator a pullin’ a skiff.” Of course, the alligators have French names:
“Ha, Gaston! Ha, Tiboy! Ha, Pierre an’ Alcee’! Gee, Ninette! Gee, Suzette! Celeste an Renee’!”
I have read this story aloud to my family and to children in public schools over the years, and it always produces loud laughter, even among those who aren’t familiar with the Cajun culture. There have been many imitations of this book, such as the Cowboy Night Before Christmas and the Redneck Night Before Christmas. But none have surpassed the originality and pure fun of Cajun Night Before Christmas.
The book is available in many book stores and at amazon.com here.
One of my favorites is Alabaster’s Song: Christmas through the Eyes of an Angel by Max Lucado. It tells the story of a boy who believes he hears the angel on the Christmas tree singing. Then miraculously, the gap-toothed angel appears by the boy’s bedside, a boy like him, and tells him what it was like to sing to baby Jesus. Children of all ages will enjoy this book, but parents, watch out, because you may get a lump in your own throat at the way the story ends.
The book can be found in many Christian book stores, and on Amazon.com here.
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
I’m glad that I met some angry dogs on a country road.
This summer, I was going for a walk on a country road where my in-laws live. I have walked that road for years. I know that many of the homes have dogs, so sometimes I carry a stick for protection. That particular day, I brought my pepper spray. Unfortunately, a woman near the end of the road let her dogs chase me. I had to use the pepper spray to keep the dogs away from me. The woman and I exchanged a few words. I’m not really proud of the argument we had.
This fall, I was visiting my in-laws again, and I decided to go for a walk again with a stick and my pepper spray. I don’t enjoy conflict, and even though I thought the “crazy woman with the dogs” was wrong, I had no desire to have another confrontation. Right before I reached her home, there is another road that turns left, so I turned left down that road. I’m so glad that I did. The side road was so beautiful and peaceful that I put away the spray and got out my cell phone to take a picture. At the top of this page is the photograph I took that day. Click on it and you can see how beautiful the view was. It reminded me of the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, which ends with these words:
Through this experience, God showed me a spiritual truth. Sometimes we have trouble in life, and we don’t understand why it comes. It may cause us to go down a different path, a path we did not expect. But often God works through these circumstances to bring about something beautiful and new. We just need to look for it.
We need to listen to the Holy Spirit when He puts up a road block on a path, and be open to going down a new path. Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you; ‘This is the way. Walk in it.'” When we face trouble, we need to trust in a loving God who desires to bring good results out of the bad circumstances, if we will be faithful. As Romans 8:28 says, “God causes all things to work together for good to those that love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”
I regret that I had the conflict that sent me down a different road. I’m even embarrassed that I let myself get into a senseless argument with a woman over her dogs. But, like Robert Frost, I’m glad that the conflict I had on that road opened up a new road I would otherwise have never seen. How about you?
“How is your day going?” asks a friend.
How do you answer that question? Many people let circumstances beyond their control determine their answer to that question. If they are sick, or the weather is bad, or somebody has treated them poorly, then they decide it’s a bad day. But if their health is improving, or the weather is nice, or somebody was kind to them, then they decide it’s a good day. The problem with that approach to life, is that it allows other people to decide for us what kind of day we are having!
God’s Word teaches us a better way. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” says Psalm 118:24. “Give thanks in everything,” we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. Really? Everything? How can I give thanks for cancer or a loved one who is dying? Notice scripture does not say to give thanks for everything, but to give thanks in everything. We can give thanks to God despite our troubles, because God often works through our troubles for good, and because, as bad as things may seem, we still have many blessings around us. Many of the psalms list reasons to give thanks. Read Psalm 103, 136, and 138, and you will see what I mean.
A pastor in Illinois was grieving the death of his father. His father always had a thankful attitude. But his son didn’t feel that way. He missed his Dad terribly. His mother told her son that during the war in Korea, his father was depressed one day, and went up on a mountain. On the mountain, God spoke to his heart in prayer. He decided right there, in the midst of war, to make it his daily habit to count his blessings. It changed his life. As the mother told her son this story, they came across an old photograph of the pastor’s father in his Army t-shirt in Korea. He had a happy smile. His mother pointed to something in the background. It was a mountain. “That,” she said, “was where your father counted his blessings.”
Someone wisely said,
Count your blessings instead of your crosses;
Count your gains instead of your losses.
Count your joys instead of your woes;
Count your friends instead of your foes.
Count your smiles instead of your tears;
Count your courage instead of your fears.
Count your full years instead of your lean;
Count your kind deeds instead of your mean.
Count your health instead of your wealth;
Count on God instead of yourself.
As Christians, we are able to do that, because we have the greatest blessing of all, the forgiveness of our sins through faith in Jesus Christ. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That’s blessing number one! Start there, and keep counting. On a mountain in Korea, a soldier decided to count his blessings. When and where will you do and I do the same?
(Below is a guest blog by Suzie Kolber on the subject of how to express sympathy during the holidays, which can be a difficult time for those who have recently lost a loved one. Suzie is a writer at ObituariesHelp.org. The site is a complete guide for someone seeking help for writing words of condolences, sympathy messages, condolence letters and funeral planning resources.)
The holidays can be such a fun, exciting time for most people. However, for those who have recently lost a family member or close friend, it can be a difficult, painful time. Everywhere they look, something reminds them of prior holidays spent with that person.
Depression is a common problem during this season for people who have lost their loved ones. If the anniversary of the death or the person’s birthday falls during this time, it can make the brightest days seem dark.
Many bereaved people tend to avoid others during this time. They don’t socialize or go out because they see the festivities as another painful reminder of their loss. On the other hand, friends and family members may tend to avoid the bereaved person because they don’t know what to say. It feels awkward to be around them and try to hide their natural excitement for the season.
While it is natural to want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the isolation only contributes more to the feelings of depression and loneliness. Family members and friends need to be aware of this and continue interacting with their grieving loved one.
What To Say
It’s normal to want to avoid someone when you don’t know what to say to them. However, your support and sympathy is needed, especially when someone suffers such a loss around the holiday season. The following tips will help you offer the comfort that is needed.
- Offer assistance for the person who still has to organize the holiday celebration even though they are grieving. For instance, someone may have lost a spouse but has children who want to celebrate. They may need help with cleaning, cooking or even shopping.
- Invite someone to your home for the holidays, especially if you are having a low-key celebration. This allows them to get out without being overwhelmed by the activities.
- Invite the loved one to volunteer with you. Doing something like creating gift baskets for soldiers can help a person feel useful and remind them that they are not alone. Others may be missing loved ones for different reasons.
- Be willing to talk about the deceased. Your job may be as simple as listening as the person relives fond memories. While you may think it would bring sadness to talk about the person who is gone, it can actually be helpful. The person is thinking about them anyway; talking provides healing.
If the person lives far away and you can’t visit during the holiday season, it is appropriate to send a flower or gift basket. You don’t need to wish them “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Instead, include a card that says that you are thinking of them. Just this reminder and a few lovely flowers can brighten their day.
Anytime is a bad time to lose a loved one. Suffering the loss during the holidays makes the pain even more severe for many. Reach out to those people and they will appreciate the comfort that you provide.
Continuing my series of photo blogs on houses of worship, I share a photo that is one of my most recent, but one of my favorites. Providence Baptist Church is an historic congregation that dates back to 1818, yet this church in rural Forrest County, north of the city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, has a worship center that blends the classic and contemporary. On the classic side, there is the red brick and columns in front, with a white steeple. But the high pitch of the roof in front that juts forward, and the columns rising to meet it, give just the right contemporary touch. Add to that the curb appeal of a country church standing proudly on a hill, and this church building is an amazing eye-catcher.
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
I continue my series of photo blogs of houses of worship that I like with the creative design of Black Rock African American Episcopal Church near Washington, Georgia. This worship center caught my eye because of the amazing way that it brings together the entrance, steeple and pitch of the roof. I don’t know if there is any symbolic meaning to the three-part steeple on the front (perhaps for the Trinity?), but it certainly has an unforgettable look that I love.