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The Reason For The Season
Some Reflections

The Old Gray Dog Ponders -- Advent at the Right Time
By Rev. James Tuckett

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
Rom. 5:6

But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
Gal. 4: 4-5

It's kind of fun to do the impossible.
Walt Disney

ASK AUGUSTINE
                    by Paul A. Tambrino, Ed.D., Ph.D.

Why do Christians celebrate Advent?

          Christians set aside the four-week period prior to December 25 (Christmas) as a time for preparing themselves for the coming of Jesus into the world.  The word “advent” is a Latin term meaning “coming” or “arrival.”  The season reflects this emphasis through two separate but related themes:  1. the coming of Christ into the world as a baby in Bethlehem; and 2. the second coming of Christ into the world on The Day of Judgment.
Originally, Advent was of undetermined length.  In the early church it was primarily a period of fasting and worship for those who were scheduled to be baptized on Epiphany (January 6).  Centuries later it developed into the current four-week observance.
Advent took on a somber character in the 11th century by the urging of Pope Gregory VII.  Marriages were prohibited and celebrations were kept to a minimum.  Today however, Christians reflect during this time on the joyful anticipation for the birth of the Christ child.

Why was Christmas not celebrated by the early church?

          Christians in the first century did not celebrate the festival honoring the birth of Jesus for the same reason they honored no other birthday anniversary.  At that time all Christians believed the celebration of birthdays (even the Lord’s) was a custom of the pagans, and to divorce themselves from any and all pagan practices the early Christians refused to set aside a date marking Jesus’ birth.  The first recorded celebration of Christmas by Christians did not take place until the 4th. century.

Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25th.?

          Although Christmas is celebrated on December 25th the exact date of Jesus’ birth is unknown.  Most biblical scholars agree that the birth probably occurred during the spring.  Luke’s gospel records that the shepherds, to whom the announcement was made, were watching their sheep by night (2:8) which would suggest lambing time or the spring.  Only then did shepherds guard their flocks around the clock for in winter the sheep would have been kept in the corral.
Actually the date of December 25th was not chosen by Christians but by Romans.  Each year as the days became noticeably shorter the Romans feared the earth may be dying.  With the “return of the sun” on December 25th resulting in longer days the Romans celebrated the “Feast of the Sol Invictus or Unconquerable Sun.” 

In 354 Bishop Liberius of Rome ordered that all Christians celebrate the birth of Christ on that day, probably so that Christians, as members of an outlawed religion in the eyes of Rome, could celebrate the birth of their Savior without danger of revealing their religious conviction, while their Roman neighbors celebrated another event.

Today we see many in our secular and atheistic society trying to ban the celebration of Christmas.  Was there ever a time when the celebration of Christmas was banned in the United States?

               Yes, but not by those in secular or atheistic society, but by Church leaders.  All joyful expression surrounding the birth of Jesus was forbidden in colonial New England by Oliver Cromwell and other Puritans who preached against the “heathen traditions surrounding this sacred event.”  As a result no public observance of the season was permitted from 1649 to 1658 with the exception of special church services conducted on Christmas Eve.  Also, it was not until 1856 the Christmas was made a legal holiday in Massachusetts, the last state to hold out.

    There are certain phrases in Scripture that just beg for exploration. For example:

". . . at just the right time. . ."
and
". . . when the time had fully come. . ."

    What made that first Advent just the right time? What does it mean that the time had fully come?

    We often talk about our sovereign God being the Lord of history. Nothing illustrates how true this is like seeing how that first Christmas came at just the right time according to God's eternal plan. I am filled with wonder and amazement at the way our Father prepared the world for the advent of His Son!

    Let's look at the ways the time had fully come.
The conquests of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC)
    Alexander conquered the known world from Europe to India and then sought to impose Greek culture on his empire. With Greek culture came the Greek language. To survive in Alexander's kingdom, it was absolutely essential that one speak Greek. By the time Jesus was born, the world shared a common language.

    God used a pagan king's conquests to establish a common language for the communication of the Gospel throughout the world.
Pax Roma -- The Roman Peace.
    The Roman Empire unified the factions which developed after Alexander's death. The day of closed frontiers was over. The world was one big neighborhood. Never before in human history, and very few times since, has the world enjoyed such an extended period of peace.
    Rome build a network of roads from one end of the empire to the other. Primarily, they were meant to enable the military to move quickly to any trouble spot, but it also facilitated commerce and other kinds of travel.
    As at no time before and very few times since, it was possible to write letters to any one in the known world and expect them to be delivered; to travel in relative safety any where in the known world; and to converse with any one any where in a common language.
God used a pagan empire to establish a world community which would facilitate the spread of the Gospel.
The Hebrew Faith and the Dispersion.
    Even God's punishment of Israel's sinfulness was useful in preparing the world for the Savior. The expectation of the Messiah had been carried in the hearts of Israel for centuries. 
    When God allowed the Jews to be conquered and carried into exile, they took into foreign cultures the hope of the Messiah. As the years passed, many Gentiles began to share this hope, and many more were exposed to this expectation.
    The reception the Apostles received would have been much different if God had not allowed His chosen people to be removed from the Promised Land centuries before that first Christmas.

    God used the dispersion of His people to plant the seeds of messianic hope in the hearts and minds of the pagan world.
The Human Condition.
    History teaches us three things about the human condition at the time of the Advent.
    1. People were confused. The Roman Empire was cluttered with pagan deities. One's religion was of little concern to Rome, as long as one was loyal to Caesar. What the "gods" did not divulge about the issues of the day, the philosophical schools sought to. The result was confusion, both spiritually and intellectually.
    2. Advent came at a time of extreme moral degradation. Outwardly, Rome gave the appearance of strength; internally, she was dying of moral degeneration. Rome could rule the world, but she could not rule her passions. The blatant idolatry practiced by the people destined Rome's ruination.
    3. Advent came at a time when people were starving from lack of decency and justice. It is a fact that the longing for morality is never stronger than when people are consumed by corruption and decadence. Romans tried many remedies to heal themselves, self-discipline, self-denial, "inner enlightenment," external tyranny; but these were all inadequate to cope with the human condition of the time.

    God allowed the human condition to sink so low that humanity would finally see that only the one true God could save them.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Matt. 5: 3

"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End."
Rev. 22: 13
    This wonderful, amazing, sovereign God of history carefully planned every detail, and when the time had fully come, at just the right time, He sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved through Him
For He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.
Eph. 1:4
    This same wonderful, amazing, sovereign God also has a plan for your life.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.
Rom 8:28
    
    He uses events and circumstances, some unpleasant, to prepare us to receive His best.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
I Cor.13:12

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD , "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Jeremiah 29:11

O Thou Who has ordered this wondrous world and Who knows all things in Heaven and earth, so fill our hearts with trust in Thee that by night and by day, as at times and in all seasons, we may without fear commit ourselves and those who are dear to us to Thy loving providence, for this life and the life to come.
In Jesus' name we pray.
Amen

Blessed are the saints who are equipped with the sound doctrines of TULIP!