Seasons of the Church: Christmastide

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CHRISTMAS DAY: The Nativity of our Lord

Singapore Christians join in the world-wide celebration of Jesus Christ's birth, as told in the Bible. While not the oldest of Christian holy days (Easter is the oldest), Christmas has become probably the most widely recognised, because of the music and cultural effects developed over the centuries. Almost everyone has heard of Christmas trees, Santa Claus and flying reindeer, even in the tropics. But who has heard of the liberating acts of God initiated in the birth and life of Jesus Christ?

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke both tell the story of Mary and Joseph, a simple Jewish couple, who were engaged to be married. Both learned in separate visions that she was to have a child by the Holy Spirit. However, when she was almost ready to give birth, a decree went out from the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, to have census. Being descended from King David, Mary and Joseph went to the original city of David, Bethlehem, to be counted. However, because of the crowded conditions of the city they had no place to stay except for a stable for the animals. Mary was forced to give birth in a stable manger (cattle feed box). She named him Jesus, or Yeshuah, meaning the "LORD saves". The account continues that angels appeared in the country-side, and with great fanfare directed poor shepherds to come and see the new-born Christ child.

Some Protestants combine the events of Epiphany (the manifestation of Christ) with Christmas, including the universal sign of a star and the Magi (wise men, kings or astrologers from the east) who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus and worshipped him in the manger.

SPECIAL DAYS AND EMPHASES

Was Jesus really born on 25 Dec?

It is not clear exactly when Jesus was born.  In fact, the earliest churches were not in the habit of celebrating birthdays at all.  Dates of conversion and martyrdom were more important.  However, by the end of the 4th century, December 25 was generally observed as the Nativity of the Lord.

NATIVITY OF OUR LORD: December 25 - Christmas Day. Many churches have special events or worship on this day. For others it is simply a day to be together with family.

NEW YEAR'S EVE: January 1. Since the time of the Wesleys, Methodists have held a watch night or Covenant Renewal to bring in the New Year.

EPIPHANY OF THE LORD: January 6. The word comes from the Greek, epiphania, meaning "manifestation". It is variously celebrated as the baptism of Jesus or the coming o the Magi. In the Eastern Orthodox Churches and some Roman Catholic Churches January 6 is celebrated as Christmas.

MUSIC: Given the example set by angels in the fields, Christmas has always been a time of joyful music. From Vivaldi to Handel's Messiah to the popular French carol, the angels' theme is found in a vast numbers of musical settings: "Gloria in excelsis Deo" - Glory to God in the highest! Felix Mendelssohn's festive setting of Charles Wesley's "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" is universally popular.
   

Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new born King,
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with th' angelic host proclaim,
"Christ is born in Bethlehem!"
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new born King!"

    

COLORS: White and gold have been considered the colours of celebration in the church.

VISUALS:

    * Christmas Star
    * Christmas tree
    * Nativity scene, in which the Magi are included on the Epiphany
    * Angels
    * Poinsettias
    * Roses
    * Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh on Epiphany Day



References:

The United Methodist Book of Worship
The online version of The Catholic Encyclopaedia, articles on:
The Christian Calendar
Advent
Christmas
The Christian Resource Institute
Ken Collins Web Site