Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Joy!

Merry Christmas!  Out upon merry Christmas!  What's Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in 'em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you?  If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.  He should!  (Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)

Most of us do not understand Scrooge’s lack of merriment during Christmas. For us, Christmas is a warm, cheerful time in which we gather with family and friends, give and receive gifts, eat too much and sing festive songs. However, it wasn’t always that way.

The early celebrations of Christmas were rather somber. There were no festivities. There was only church, and that consisted of a typical mass. In fact, the name of the holiday is simply “Christ’s mass.” There were no Christmas carols to sing. The only songs that spoke of the birth of Jesus were drab. They were only written in Latin, which was not the common language. Therefore, only the priests could sing them.

All of that changed forever, in the early 1200’s. Francis of Assisi, was concerned that the common people were missing out on the joy of celebrating the birth of Christ, because they only observed it by going to formal worship services. He wanted the people to be able to celebrate themselves.

Around 1223, Francis recruited a few people and gathered some animals together for a new project. He dressed them in Biblical costumes and staged the first nativity scene in a nearby cave. He then invited the townspeople to come to the cave to view the depiction of the Savior’s birth.

About that same time, Francis also wrote a song for the common people to sing at Christmas. Instead of the formal melodies they heard at church, he set it to the tune of a popular song of the day. He called the song a “carol,” which is taken from the French word for “dancing in a circle.” The word was borrowed from the pagan ritual of dancing in a circle during the Winter Solstice.

St. Francis wanted people to be joyful and festive when they celebrate the Lord’s birth. We have Him to thank for making our Christmas a “merry” time. However, let’s not make the mistake of moving too far in the other direction. It would be as much of a mistake to get so caught up in “making merry” that we forget what we are celebrating.

Jesus came into this world as a baby. He left as our Savior. He was born, died and rose from the dead, that we might have life. That is why we celebrate. That is why we remember the night of His birth through our nativity scenes. That is why we sing, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and other carols.

This is important to remember, so when the decorations come down; when the Christmas songs are no longer playing on the radio; when all of the gifts have been opened; we will still have the joy of Christ in our hearts all year long. 

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach”…“It's Christmas Day!" said Scrooge to himself. "I haven't missed it.” (Ebenezer Scrooge)
I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
(Luke 2:10-14)