Tuesday, December 22, 2015

History of Christmas

Matthew 1:18 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit”

As Christmas is nearing, I would like to discuss the history behind the Christmas holiday.  When people think of Christmas, they think of winter, snow, a Christmas tree sprung out with decorations and lights glowing with presents underneath, people singing Christmas carols, exchanging gifts, good cheer and good will to our fellow man.  Children think of Santa Claus riding in his sleigh of reindeer coming down the chimney with bag full of gifts. However, most people think of December 25 being the birth of Jesus Christ in a barn in a town of Bethlehem.  However, I wonder how many people know how the holiday of Christmas really got started, and about the truth surrounding Jesus birth, that he wasn’t really born December 25 as perceived.  These things will be answered. 

It what surprise many Christians that some Christians don’t celebrate Christmas at all because of its supposed Pagan roots.  I couldn’t imagine at all the holiday that celebrates the birth of Christ to have pagan origins but there is some truth to it. During the Ancient times, centuries before Christ was born, European pagans celebrated during the winter solstice when the shortest days and longest night of the year when the sunlight is extended. A festival is held to worship the birth of the sun between December 21-25.  The Scandinavian norses celebrated Yule in which a festival was held in honor of the return of the sun, and fathers and sons would bring in logs and set them on fire feasting until the logs burned out. This celebration lasted from December 21 until January.  In Rome, pagans celebrated a holiday known as Saturnalia in honor of the God Saturn between December 17-25. 

Some Roman soldiers also celebrated December 25th as the birth of Mithra, a Persian sun god.  During this time, courts, schools and businesses were closed, slaves would become masters and peasants would rule the city. People could run around and damage property or inflict injury without the fears of being punished.  A festival was held that included drinking, gambling, gift-giving, role-playing etc.  Human sacrifices also took place on the 25th, when a victim was selected to represent the Lord of Misrule as the Romans believed murdering the victim, they were destroying the forces of darkness.  During the early days of Christianity, Easter was only celebrated as a main holiday.  It wasn’t until the 4th century that the birth of Jesus Christ was celebrated as a holiday. 

The problem was the bible never mentions the month or day of Jesus birth.  In fact, new scholars now conclude that Jesus birthday was not in December at all but likely in September because due to certain facts. That the shepherds were outside in the fields with their flock when Jesus was born yet shepherds wouldn’t be out during the winter season because it would have been too cold. Also the fact that Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem to register in the census, but that wouldn’t take place in the winter season either.  Also, in the bible it states that the Virgin Mary’s cousin Elizabeth whom Mary was visiting was already in her sixth month of pregnancy of John the Baptist when Mary conceived which was likely in December making September likely the time she gave birth.  Pope Julius I declared December 25th, the birthday of Jesus Christ around 350 AD as a way to absorb it with the pagan holidays, rituals and customs. It was originally called the Feast of Nativity and spread out all over throughout the continents over the centuries. In 529 AD, Emperor Justianian declared the holiday a civic one.

The word Christmas came from the old English word Cristesmaesse coined in 1038 and later Cristes Messe in 1131 meaning the Mass of Christ.  By the medieval era, Christmas contained some of its pagan customs too an extant. People would go to church then celebrate afterwards by engaging in drunken raucous. Also a beggar would be crowned as the Lord of Misrule with the others as his subjects.  The poor would go the home of the rich demanding food and drink and if the owners refused, they would cause mischief upon the owners. The wealthy folks would pay their dept to society by entertaining the poor.  By the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell and his puritan followers decided to ban Christmas altogether until Charles II took the throne and restored it.  When the pilgrims arrived in America colonies, Christmas wasn’t celebrated and even outlawed in some parts of the country including Boston during the later part of the 17th century. 

Even after the revolutionary war, Christmas still wasn't widely celebrated as a holiday in fact, Congress held its first session on Christmas Day in 1789.  Christmas would become a federal holiday in 1870.  By this time Americans even adapted the current traditions of Christmas such as the custom of the Christmas tree that was started in Germany during the 16th century.  Other customs included giving gifts or putting presents under the Christmas tree, stockings, mistletoes, etc. For children, the legend of Santa Claus also known as Father Christmas in the United Kingdom riding on his sleigh of reindeer climbing down the chimney to bring toys for them emerged. 

Today Christmas is holiday celebrated all in many countries around world as secular holiday where people decorate their Christmas tree, go shopping for presents, host fancy dinners and exchange presents, sing Christmas carols etc.  However, real meaning of Christmas is so much more as it is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Another important factor is love.  Christ love for all God’s children and we as children of God should follow Christ example by extending love, kindness and goodwill to all our fellow men and women.  It doesn’t matter if what kind of gift you buy how expensive or not it matters is in the heart, and mostly remembering Jesus Christ came into this world where he gave  to many people the biggest gift was Him dying for all our sins on the cross.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Truth About The Visits Mary Magdalene Made To The Tomb

John 20:1 “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance”

In my last post, I discussed the four gospels detailing the life and death of Jesus Christ. I now want to discuss the truth about Mary Magdalene’s visits to His Tomb and just how many visits she made.  In each of the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, is a different account on Mary Magdalene’s visit to the tomb, where it was daylight or dark, how many other women were with her, if she saw one or two men at the tomb, whether she was alone when first saw that the stone had been removed in the tomb or was she with the other women.  All these details I will analyze.  

In Matthew 28: 1-10, mentions only Mary Magdalene and the other Mary(possibly Mary the mother of James) heading to the tomb where it mentions an earthquake and an angel comes down and rolls back the stone sitting on it and greets the two women has they arrive.  The angel then informs them that Jesus has risen telling them go inside the tomb to see that he isn’t there anymore and to tell the other disciples that Jesus is headed to Gallilee.  As they prepare they flee from the tomb, the women are greeted by Jesus and they soon ran to him and clasped his feet in worship as he instructs them to his disciples to go Gallilee where he will be.  In Mark 16: 1-8, mentions Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome purchased some burial spices to anoint Jesus’ body Saturday evening after the Sabbath and on Sunday morning just at sunrise they headed to the tomb discussing who will roll away the stone at the entrance of the tomb.  However when they arrived, the stone was rolled away and as they entered the tomb, the saw a man clothed in white sitting on the right side telling them that Jesus had risen and showing where he used to lay.  He instructs the women to tell the disciples, including Peter that Jesus will be ahead of them at Gallilee.  The women leave the tomb and don’t say anything to anyone out of fear.  There is an added text of the gospel Mark 16: 9-20 where it mentions that the first person Jesus appears to is Mary Magdalene who tells the other disciples who don’t believe her.  Jesus also appears in different form to two disciples headed from Jerusalem to the country who also tell the others but they are not believed either.  Then Jesus finally appears to the eleven remaining apostles. 

Luke 24:1-12 mentions a group of nameless women headed to the tomb on Sunday early dawn to carrying the burial spices they prepared only to find the stone rolled away.  Inside the tomb, they see Jesus corpse is gone and instead there are two men who tell them that Jesus is not there anymore as he has risen.  The women flee the tomb and return to tell the eleven remaining apostles and the other disciples what they witnessed. The names Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joanna are mentioned among those who tell the disciples as well as other nameless women.  Peter headed to the tomb and found the linen clothes by themselves and returned home amazed.  Finally in John 20:1-18, details only Mary Magdalene arriving at the Tomb early while it was still dark to find the stone rolled away at the entrance and later told the what she saw to Peter and John( referred as the disciple that Jesus loved) claiming that they had taken Jesus’ body out of the tomb.  Then both Peter and John head to the tomb and once inside see that his body is gone find just linen clothes.  After they leave, Mary Magdalene stands outside the tomb crying and looks inside to see two angels clothed in white sitting where Jesus was lain one at the head and the other at the foot who ask her why she is crying to which she tells them that Jesus body has been taking away and she doesn’t know where he is placed.  Then she turns around and sees Jesus standing there but doesn’t recognize him thinking he’s the gardener even when He asks her why she’s crying and asks him where Jesus’ body is. It’s only after he calls her name that she recognizes him and cries out rabboni(meaning teacher).  Jesus tell her not to touch him since he’s not ascended to the Father yet and instructs her to go tell the other disciples that He’s ascending to the Father, God to which she flees and finds the other disciples and repeats what he said to her. 

These accounts somewhat similar and slightly different leaves it very confusing to the real truth what happened at Jesus’ Tomb. Mary Magdalene is mentioned in each of the gospels of being present when the Tomb is discovered empty but did she visit the tomb more than twice, like three or four times and what about her witnessing Jesus resurrection?  The gospel John puts where alone standing outside the tomb when she saw Jesus who wouldn’t allow her to touch him yet the gospel of Matthew has her with another Mary(possibly Mary the mother of James) when seeing resurrected Jesus after an angel removed the stone from entrance of the tomb and sat on it telling the women about Jesus haven risen from the tomb.  The gospel of Mark mentions Mary the Mother of James and Salome with Mary Magdalene finding the tomb empty and one man inside the tomb to tell them about Jesus.  The gospel of Luke only mentions a group of women at the tomb and two men greeting them to tell them about Jesus and later mentions the name other than Mary Magdalene, Joanna and another some other women telling the disciples about what they saw in the tomb.  The gospel on John only mentions Mary Magdalene going to the tomb implying she went alone and only mentions the names Peter and John as the disciples she told also implying the other disciples weren’t there besides she was alone when she first saw Jesus unlike in the gospel of Matthew. 

With some different details regarding Jesus tomb and his resurrection how can anyone know for sure what truly happened, what is true and what is false?  This doesn’t mean that four gospels are not truthful, taking into account that they were written by four different people and told from different point of views.  It’s possible that in each gospel, some details where left out that were added in the other gospels and not told in chronically order can make it quite confusion.  For example, the gospel of John may only mention Mary Magdalene going to the tomb but that doesn’t mean she went alone.  The gospel of Mark may only mention three women, but more women could have also been with the group heading to the tomb including the female disciple Joanna.  As for Mary Magdalene, she is mentioned on all four gospels and appears to be an important presence as she found the tomb empty and witnessed Jesus resurrection.  Also, considering the different accounts in the gospels regarding her presence, leads a possibility that she made more than two visits to the tomb.  In fact, many scholars have theories that Mary Magdalene made at least three or four visits to the tomb each giving their own perspective of what happened.  I will not dwell on their theories in this topic but come with theories on my own based on my understanding of all four gospels. One theory is that Mary Magdalene visited the tomb at least three times. 

From what we do know from Mark and Luke is that Saturday evening after the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene and other women that included Mary the Mother of James, Salome and probably Joanna, purchased burial spices to anoint Jesus’ body. Sometime later an earthquake occurred and the tomb was pulled aside.  I theorize that Mary Magdalene and the group of women, headed to the tomb early Sunday morning when it was still dark discussing among each other how they were going to move the tomb. By the time they arrived it was dawn and they discovered the tomb was empty went inside and saw two men dressed in white robes.  Although Mark 16: 5-7 mentions only man in the tomb who speaks to them, this doesn’t mean there wasn’t a second man with him as mentioned in Luke 24: 1-7.  The women leave and later tell the other disciples what they saw. What is interesting is the verse John 20:2 “So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” This implies that Mary Magdalene believed that Jesus’ body was taken away despite the men in the tomb telling her and the other women that He had risen.  Perhaps the women were not aware that the men were angels and didn’t really believe their claims of Jesus rising from the dead despite it being predicted earlier.  Then it took Jesus appearing to the apostle Thomas the second time he appeared to the apostles for Thomas to truly believe he had risen from the dead.  Anyway, Peter and John were the only ones who went to the tomb and saw for themselves that it’s empty. 

Mary Magdalene makes her second visit to the tomb either following after Peter and John or arriving some time after they left which isn’t exactly clear.  Either way, by the time Peter and John left to tell the others, Mary Magdalene stands outside the tomb crying and looked inside only to see the two men again each sitting at the head and foot of where Jesus lain.  They asked why she was crying to which she told them that Jesus’ body was taken away and when she turned around, she saw Jesus standing there but she doesn’t recognize him at first and thinks he’s the gardener.  It isn’t until Jesus says her name that she releases who he is, however, when she is about to grasp his feet, he informs her not to touch him since he has not yet ascended to the Father.  Mary Magdalene runs to tell the other disciples.  I can only speculate that she didn’t find they disciples yet, or she told them and they wouldn’t believe her right away, as Thomas didn’t believe it until he saw Jesus for himself the second time He appeared before the apostles. Either way, it possible that sometime later, she returned to the tomb for the third time with the other Mary, possibly Mary the Mother of James to witness Jesus resurrection for herself. When they arrived, they found a man sitting on the stone telling them again about Jesus rising from the dead and when they turn away from the tomb to find the others, they both see Jesus which is the second time for Mary Magdalene and this time they are allowed to touch him as they clasped at his feet.  

Another theory is that Mary Magdalene visited the tomb four times with her first visit she went alone when it was still dark.  It doesn’t say if she entered the tomb but only found the stone rolled away but she would have later entered the tomb with the other women since in John 20:2 she tells others “we do not know where they have laid him”.  Anyway, her second visit would have happened when she and the group of women she was with headed to the tomb at dawn and the women discussed among each other who would roll away the tomb, implying Mary Magdalene didn’t say anything about what she witnessed maybe fear she wouldn’t be believed and wanted the women to see it for themselves. A third theory could possibly be that only Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome visited the tomb and were confronted only by one man as mentioned Mark gospels, and perhaps another group of women headed the tomb the Luke gospels that consisted of Joanna.  The possibility for this theory is that Mary Magdalene and the other two women left the tomb and told what they saw to another group of female disciples who decided to visit the tomb to see it for themselves that morning taking spices for anointing his body only this time they found two men inside the tomb.

Nobody can know 100% for sure exactly what really happened and may never know as I mentioned before these are all just speculations.  What really is important is the faith and belief that Jesus did rise from the tomb showed himself to Mary Magdalene and later the other disciples before meeting them in Galilee in the mountains before finally ascending to heaven for them all to see.  What is also important is Mary Magdalene played in important role in Jesus life as she was present during his crucifixion, was present at the tomb when his corpse was gone and was the first person witness His resurrection.  The four gospels each tell a story of Jesus life to his death, his rising from the dead and appearing to his followers that Christians hold valid today.