HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
December 4, 2006, Herald Journal
Pastor's Column

God’s gift to the world

Rev. Eric Nelson, St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran, Lester Prairie

The arrival of the Advent season means that Christmas is just around the corner. On Dec. 25, many will celebrate the momentous event when a virgin named Mary gave birth to Christ our Lord.

One often hears that the date Dec. 25 has pagan origins. It has been claimed that this date was originally used by those who worshipped Mithras.

Mithras – a god of Persian origin – became associated with Deus Sol Invictus (the God of the Unconquerable Sun). Because Mithraism had gained popularity, the Roman emperor Aurelian issued an edict in A.D. 274, establishing Dec. 25 as the festival of Natale Solis Invicti (Birth of the Unconquerable Sun).

However, in his book “How Christianity Changed the World,” sociologist Dr. Alvin J. Schmidt disputes this claim that the traditional date of Christmas Day is a result of Christianizing a pagan holiday. Dr. Alvin points out that Christians in northern Africa (mainly in Egypt) were already celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December as early as A.D. 243. This would be more than 30 years before Aurelian’s edict.

Dr. Schmidt also states that these Christians associated Christ’s birth with the Old Testament prophecy in Malachi 4:2. This prophecy calls the promised Messiah “the sun of righteousness” (Natalis Solis Iustitiae in Latin). Therefore, it may be that Aurelian tried to paganize the Christian observance of the birth of Christ (“the sun of righteousness”) with an edict establishing Dec. 25 as the festival of the Birth of the Unconquerable Sun.

Such historical disputes can be difficult to resolve definitively. However, what can be said definitively is that Christ came into the world to save sinners. That is why he was born of the Virgin Mary. That is why he suffered and died on cross. That is why he rose again on the third day.

Christmas reminds us of God’s tremendous gift of salvation. This gift of salvation is meant for you.

Christ came to establish your forgiveness so that you may have eternal life through faith in him. Because of his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, God will no longer count your sins against you.

Therefore, the gift of Christ reveals a God who loves you. That is why on the 25th of December, we celebrate this gift God has given to the world.

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