On the first Sunday of Advent each year, the Christian church begins a new year. It doesn’t start with sales, hangovers or TV specials but with the message of hope. It is the cry we heard from the prophet Isaiah and the same message John the Baptist took up, “prepare a way for the Lord”. It’s the ultimate message of hope at the time of the year when light is at its lowest ebb. Though we all associate the birth of Christ with December the reality is the actual event would have been in the Spring or Summer time according to biblical scholars. It is certain that Christ wasn’t actually born on that day. No Roman governor would have risked ordering a census in the Winter months. The Roman and Judean rulers knew that taking a census in winter would have been impractical and unpopular. Generally a census would take place after the harvest season, around September or October, when it would not seriously affect the economy, the weather was good and the roads were still dry enough to allow easy travel. So assuming the Romans used the normal dates for the census, this would probably be the season of Christ's birth. Evidence from Scripture also suggests it was not during Winter but between April and October. All we can say is the Christian church chose the day for symbolic and religious purposes. The winter festival of lights and the pagan gods was replaced by the feast of the Nativity from about the 4th century onwards. It is more symbolic in the Northern hemisphere because of the way the season works out. If the date itself is not important, what is? That Christ came to fulfill the promise God made to his people.
Scripture has been fulfilled, Christ has come, but not everyone knows it or accepts it. Maybe then when people are focussing on Christmas parties, on shopping for presents, on all the material side of the season it’s our responsibility to say to them and perhaps to ourselves, hang on a minute. Do you really understand what you are celebrating? Do you believe what you are celebrating or shopping for or cooking for? We don’t have to stand in the middle of a big shopping market with a placard or turn into rampant evangelists. Mother Teresa was once asked by a young girl, “What can I do for world peace?” The response was “Go home and love your family”. So this Christmas we could start with ourselves and then those around us if we truly believe that “the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us”.