A “Church” that Never Saw “Christmas”

As we hurtle toward yet another “Christmas,” awaiting the last deliveries of packages from our online shopping (does anyone go to real stores anymore?) and gobbling up “just one more cookie” for the fourth time in an hour, it might be helpful to stop. What is going on? What and who are we celebrating?

“Church” is increasingly marginalized in Western society. Not only in the “put Christ back into Christmas” kind of way. But Church has little or no voice in the world, and the world increasingly dictates what Church looks like. Our suburban church buildings tend to look like suburban big-box stores. Our church governance is shifting to a CEO style, so our church’s Boards of Directors assess their pastor with the same hire-and-fire mentality that they operate with at the workplace. Balance sheets are routinely printed in the weekly church bulletin, as if it was, like the Dow Jones and the S&P 500, another indicator of the health of the economy. Layer upon layer upon layer has been added to “church;” one wonders of, it times, the Bridegroom can even recognize his Bride for all the layers of gaudy makeup and false eyelashes that she has “prettied” herself up with.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I saw a recent blurb about an exhibition of art from Dura-Europos, now on display at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, through Jan. 8, 2012. Dura-Europos, in modern-day western Syria, was located at the crossroads of several ancient civilizations. In the Roman Period, which saw the rise and destruction of the city, it was a border town between the Roman Empire and the Parthians, a people who gave Rome no end of trouble, and were a major reason that the Romans maintained troops in the province of Syria (from which Judea and Jerusalem was administered). The city was destroyed in AD 256/7; just before its destruction, however, a house in the city was converted to use for Christian worship (in roughly 232). There is debate about whether this particular house reminded a private residence but was used also for worship, or whether it became a “church building” used solely for worship (excellent discussions are found in R MacMullen, The Second Church and W H C Frend, The Archeology of Early Christianity). From the outside, the building itself looked like any other residence on the street; its walls were incorporated into the surrounding structures and indeed into the exterior city defensive wall. There are no parking lots, in case you are wondering. But there is art, such as depictions of processions from the baptistery to the assembly room, with women on one side and men on the other (as was typical Eastern practice). There are depictions of events in Jesus’ ministry, such as walking on the water and healing a paralytic. Something like, I suppose, the stained glass windows of Western church building. The congregation would not have been large; the assembly room could hold, at most, 70 individuals. An excellent page on the city and the house that was used for Christian worship is provided by Yale University’s Art Gallery. The image below is one reconstruction of the building, though of course the labels are quite hypothetical.

This house is not the only place of worship in Dura-Europos. Like all pre-Constantinian cities, religious diversity was the rule, not the exception. A Jewish synagogue and a temple to Mithras have also been excavated. What can we determine about the lives and worship of the Christians who gathered here? Not much, for unfortunately walls don’t speak. Although the walls were not fully intact when excavated, it is striking that a few scenes from Jesus’ ministry are not evident. The crucifixion and resurrection are missing, as is also the nativity.

Which brings us back to Christmas. The absence of reference to the death and resurrection is surprising — after all, these events are what make faith in Christ matter (1 Cor 15:1-11, 17). But the lack of reference to the nativity is not. There is no evidence for “Christmas” as part of the worship life of the church until 80 years after the “church” in Dura-Europos was destroyed: there is a reference in a Roman text in AD 336, which lists Dec 25 as the festival of natus Christus in Betleem Judeae. Shortly thereafter there is evidence for a festival of the nativity in the eastern empire, with its capital in Constantinople, celebrated on Jan 6 (the West’s date for Epiphany). Imagine, you pastors out there, if you were serving a second or third century church and not having the “Christmas” rush every year?

This is not to argue, of course, that the Feast of the Nativity should not be observed; a celebration of the Divine Service is a wholly appropriate way to reflect on the Incarnation, an opportunity to “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” But is “silence” in the presence of the Incarnate One what we will keep on Dec. 25? Or something else? We have piled stuff onto “Christmas,” so much stuff that “silence” is hardly even possible any more. And we’ve done this to ourselves, as we’ve added, bit by bit, to “Christmas.” Allow a few examples:

Much of the nineteenth century Christmas hymnody that we still sing today is about “Christmas,” not about the birth of the Messiah. Rather, it reflects a Victorian Britain celebration. In the first century, Mary and Joseph did not “See Amid the Winter’s Snow,” for snow is a December phenomenon in England, not something that occurs in a Judean Spring (when the “shepherds in the fields” would have been keeping watch over the sheep who were giving birth and tending their lambs). It was not a “Bleak Midwinter” (though this carol, mercifully, did not make it into recent Lutheran hymnals). Try telling our brothers and sisters in the Southern Hemisphere that Dec. 25 will be bleak, while they are lounging on their beaches and pursuing summertime activities. Other elements of the Christmas story are older, but no less fictitious. “What Child is This” sings of the place “where ox and ass are feeding.” Although we all have an ox and a donkey in our nativity sets, there are no animals mentioned in the gospel accounts. Rather, this comes from a text called Pseudo-Matthew, a seventh-century narrative of the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. This text is itself based on an earlier, second-century text called the Protoevangelium of James, which is the source for much of the Christmas imagery: Joseph as an old man; the journey to Bethlehem being made on a donkey; the depiction of the birth in cave (or grotto), etc. Other items, such as the “no room at the inn” and the Christmas pageant innkeeper, are the result of mistranslations in our English Bibles.

Now, all this is not to say that we should strip down everything out of the Christmas story (although some reflection on what we’ve done to “Christmas” would be a good thing). Rather, what might be helpful in this time of way too much stress is to keep the main thing the main thing. Is it not odd that the actual church festival, the Feast of the Nativity, is the least attended of all the Christmas services? Some congregations have three and even four Christmas Eve services — and Christmas music festivals and children’s programs in the weeks before Christmas. But on the actual nativity feast day only one service is held, and that so sparsely attended that a few congregations don’t offer Divine Service on that day at all.

All this is to say, simply, stop. Keep silence. Ponder, and stand in awe. What are you doing this week, and does it help? The church could, unbelievable as it may seem, survive without “Christmas.” Without Christ, without his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and return, it could not survive. But the Church, even the Church you attend or serve, doesn’t need “Christmas.”





26 responses to “A “Church” that Never Saw “Christmas””

  1. Doug Stowe Avatar
    Doug Stowe

    All of this, while true and necessary, is a hard sell. I regularly and gently challenge my flock to read the texts carefully, to find those things that are central to the Gospel, to keep the main thing in focus. And generally folks are receptive. They’re interested in how things got to be this way.

    Unfortunately, they’re also unlikely to change a lot of their customs. Early in my ministry I caught some grief for not singing “Silent Night” at *one* of the Christmas Eve services: the custom just mattered too much to them. Just last week a Bible study participant asked me, “What’s the difference?” I likened it to singing out of tune: the melody might still be recognizable, but the danger is that the song will be lost.

    So, pastorly speaking, I’d advise a middle course: preach the Gospel as the texts lay it out and challenge pre-conception gently, esp. in Bible studies and discussion groups. Introduce hymns that keep things straighter, but don’t forsake pious songs that folks can sing by heart. St. Paul instructs that we speak the truth in love–the “in love” means with gentleness and with a view to the hearers encouragement.

    Finally, Jeff, I’m not criticizing your piece at all; I’m just advising fellow pastors how to use it. I read your pieces regularly, and in this post, I’m especially grateful for the bibliography. I may have to try to read McMullen and Frend in the new year.

  2. Jeff gibbs Avatar
    Jeff gibbs

    Bah, humbug. I agree.

  3. Greyson Grenz Avatar
    Greyson Grenz

    As the father of young children, I struggle with Christmas as we celebrate it in our day and age. As a new pastor, I must admit that the Advent season has been a blur of activity, and if I feel that way, I would imagine that my people feel similarly. One idea that crossed my mind was to forego the Christmas pageant and have an Easter one instead. I know I will be shot for this idea but the main thing is Easter isn’t it?

  4. Couple of thoughts | Maximum Balance Foundation LLC Avatar

    […] Concordia Theology » A “Church” that Never Saw “Christmas” In the Roman Period, which saw the rise and destruction of the city, it was a border town between the Roman Empire and the Parthians, a people who gave Rome no end of trouble, and was a major reason that the Romans maintained troops in … In the first century, Mary and Joseph did not “See Amid the Winter’s Snow,” for snow is a December phenomenon in England, not something that occurs in a Judean Spring (when the “shepherds in the fields” would have been keeping watch … https://concordiatheology.org/ — Tue, 20 Dec 2011 07:40:11 -0800 […]

  5. Jeff Kloha Avatar
    Jeff Kloha

    Yea, I know I’m a Scrooge. I get this way every year, even before Advent starts. I’ve just been able to resist posting something until today. Doug — of course we can’t turn the clock back and strip away everything that people have come to view as “Christmas.” Pastorally, something like not singing “Silent Night” is a big move and every pastor would get grief for not having it sung. You’re right to start with ourselves, teach, preach, and let the Word create the right focus. It is not that “Silent Night” is evil; to use the old phrase: “The abuse does not take away the (proper) use.” Our task is to put the “use” in its proper, Christ-centered framework.

    Christmas pageants — there is something beneficial in having kids learn the story, even act out the story. But when it becomes “about the kids” then we run into trouble. Maybe just ban phones and video.

    Sorting all this out is why you pastors make the big bucks!

  6. pete lange Avatar
    pete lange

    no christmas? how else are we ever going to make our budget?!?

    1. Jeff Kloha Avatar
      Jeff Kloha

      Exactly. It’s come to this.

    2. Stacy Woldie Avatar
      Stacy Woldie

      I imagine Constantine with similar thoughts……how am I going to unite my empire with this Messianic Jewish cult growing so quickly? Oh, yes, create a “lukewarm” state-mandated religion called Christianity, incorporate pagan festival dates and worship practices, and then pronounce it holy by a royal edict. Such a religion would be a perfect way to bring dissenting factions together by combining beliefs and having something for everybody. It would be neither hot, nor cold. Unfortunately, it would be in defiance of God’s instruction to not mix the holy with the profane. But those dusty old instructions come from the Old Testament and everybody knows that the Church has supplanted Israel. Furthermore, all those promises made to Abraham and his ilk are now defunct. Yeah, get into the “spirit.” Put up a tree next to the altar…..nothing wrong with that. “You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the LORD your God that you shall make.” Deuteronomy 16:20-22

    3. Tom Vanderbilt Avatar
      Tom Vanderbilt

      That would also cut annual church attendance in HALF for a large portion of our people.

  7. Marc Engelhardt Avatar
    Marc Engelhardt

    What gets me about this discussion is that I have gotten the impression that most pastors feel the way Jeff described. And while we do need to do things in all gentleness and love, at what point are we undermining the fact we have been given the vocations of leaders and teachers in the Church?
    I think most of us avoid any real change because it is hard and messy and gets in the way of the everyday “business” of the church. I think we would do better if when we recognize and identify issues in the Church that distort and distract us from our actually purpose, we take them head on. Knowing that it may look like a disaster, and that it will take time to heal afterward, but on the other side of that mess and pain is a healthier, stronger, and more focused people of God.

    Passive aggressive indifference towards the problems we see might seem gentle, but it isn’t a way of loving our people.

    I apologize if this all seems ranty, but this isn’t a new a problem and next to nothing has been done about it most congregations )even though most of us see the problems). Perhaps we need a unified movement in the LCMS to make a change, so that Joe Pastor feels like he can finally do something about it in his church without getting run out of town.

  8. Daniel Eggold Avatar
    Daniel Eggold

    Gilbert Meilaender has written a little volume entitles “Letter for Ellen.” It is a collection of imaginary letters from a mother to her daughter in college. In one letter, “Christmas for the World,” the mother gives her impression of her pastor’s Christmas sermon:

    “Of course, according to Pastor Haden’s sermon yesterday, you and I are part of the problem of Christmas. I don’t understand why contendedly bourgeois clergy feel so compelled to work off their radical impulses right before Christmas. He made all the standard points: a Christian holy day turned into commercial success. Shoppers and party-goers worn out before the day actually arrives. Cards sent out of nothing more than a sense of obligation. And all that work—cookies to bake, carols to sing, lights to string, Christmas specials on TV to watch.”

    She goes on:

    “Despite all the fireworks, I’m afraid Pastor Haden missed the point. Which is the Incarnation. God comes to the world, taking human life into his own life. There is a way of celebrating Christmas which can—with the best of intention—miss that. As if we need to worry that the world might find a way to be happy all on its own.
    God comes to a world that needs him and that, wittingly or not, seeks him. Why do merchants make good profits at Christmas? In part, perhaps, because buried deep within us is a desire to give to others. It’s a desire we usually manage to stifle, but at Christmas it breaks through and overcomes even the worst of us. Why do we keep on sending those cards? Because we have not lost entirely the sense that we are created for life with each other.”

    Finally, she gives some excellent advice for her daughter (and, I think, all contendedly bourgeois pastors):

    “We should not stand the selfishness and greed if there were not this time when even the Scrooges among us become transformed by the spirit of Christmas (or is that the Spirit of Christmas?). We could not stand the darkness that is all around us were there not this time when brightly colored lights shine through that darkness. We should not despise the world’s celebration of Christmas or grow cynical about it.
    We should join in. Christmas carols, tired feet, long hours spent shopping, lights and decorations, festive foods, songs about the Christmas we used to know. Christmas ought not to be too sterile or antiseptic an occasion. It is for the world, because in the incarnate Son God is for the world. Of course we do more than just join…
    I wish Pastor Haden would take to heart the second lesson read in our service yesterday. ‘Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.” Be patient with the world—as, in fact, God is.”

    I re-read this letter every Advent in order to curb my radical impulses and simply to join in…

    1. Jeff Kloha Avatar
      Jeff Kloha

      From one bourgeois clergyman to another: Merry Christmas, Dan.

      I get what you (and Meilander) are saying. I’m not so worried about blasting away at the “commercial” Christmas that Pastor Haden preached about. We can’t control what the world does with it, and we live in the world, not separate from it. So joining in is okay. What concerns me more is what we, the church, have done with Christmas. Advent is about watching and waiting — not for Christmas, but for the return of Christ when he judges all (even our Christmas celebrations) and restores his creation. The incarnation was not the end, it was a means to an end: “When the fulness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, *in order to* redeem those under the law.” Our redemption is accomplished, but not complete, for it will not be complete until the Last Day (Rom 8:23; Eph 4:30). Every Christmas, then, should be filled with at least a little disappointment, or at least a renewed sense of anticipation. Because it marks another year that we’ve spent waiting for his return, and it seems no nearer. We wait patiently, yes, knowing that He came into the world not to leave it the way it was, but to make it new. And it needs to be made new, even our “Christmas” celebrations need to be made new. We’re still waiting. Maranatha.

  9. pete Avatar

    amen – come lord jesus.

    while i’m waiting, i think i’ll go tweak that christmas eve sermon…

  10. Daniel Eggold Avatar
    Daniel Eggold

    Dr. Kloha,

    Thanks for your response. This maybe a bit of a tangent, but is it proper to say: “The incarnation was not the end, it was a means to an end?” Certainly, Jesus was incarnate from the Virgin Mary for our redemption. And yes, there is nothing wrong with proclaiming the importance of Jesus’ death at Christmas. Jesus clearly came to die for our sins. Nor is it wrong to proclaim a full-bodied eschatology. None of that is untrue.

    Yet, it strikes me as incomplete. If this is the only answer we have to the question, “Why did God become incarnate?” we miss the full significance of the incarnation. Christ became man to make us brothers; reborn so that we might be given the right to become children of God (John 1:12)—even as He is! Christmas Eve is the night of our rebirth. “For therefore did He assume the body originate and human, that having renewed it as its Framer, He might deify it in Himself, and thus might introduce us all into the kingdom of heaven after His likeness” (St. Athanasius, Against the Arians, ii.70).

    All of this is to say, the incarnation may be a means to an end, but it is not merely a means to an end. The incarnation is not temporary but permanent. It is both complete and continuing. I have heard many Lutheran sermons that want to connect the manger to the cross but then fail grasp the continuing significance of the Incarnation. We are able to share in the divine life not only because of the atoning sacrifice but also because of the hallowing incarnation. Maybe instead of talking about restoration and second coming, we could talk about awaiting our “adoption as sons” as did St. Paul on occasion. That way we come back to incarnational language.

    P.S. I have to stick up for “In a Bleak Midwinter.” The second verse is good:

    Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
    Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
    In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
    The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

    There might even be enough eschatology there to keep Dr. Scrooge, I mean, Dr. Gibbs happy.

    Then again, I may just like “In a Bleak Midwinter” because I am a bit of an Anglophile…

    1. Jeff Kloha Avatar
      Jeff Kloha

      Agreed – Jesus’ incarnation and resurrection do show what humanity will be on the last day — it is a foretaste of the life to come. Romans 6: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in *newness of life.* For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him *in a resurrection like his.*” That is not to deny the physical, by any means. It elevates the physical to what it should have been all along: without sin. That is where Paul is going with his “adoption as sons” language — keep reading in Romans 8:23, where our “adoption as sons” is in fact “the redemption of our bodies.” That is to say, our bodies are adopted as they are, but not left the way they are. They are transformed “to be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:21), sown is dishonor, raised in glory (1 Cor 15).

      Some fall off the horse on one side: indulge the physical, the spiritual is ethereal and of no consequence. Others fall off on the other side: only the spiritual matters, build walls from the world and live in isolation. The incarnation shows that neither are what God is doing in the world. He preserves us “body and soul.” We are always living in this tension: are we “worldly”? Are we “spiritual”?

      I tried to get at this in a post a couple years ago:


      Sorry, you haven’t sold me on the bleak midwinter thing. It’s too bleak. Earth can indeed sustain the incarnate one. It was created through him, he lived in it, and he is transforming it — it will not “flee away” when he comes to reign. Rather, on that day “the dwelling place of God is with man” in a city that is –even accounting for the metaphorical nature of the Apocalypse — measurable and made out of materials from this earth.

      What I do like about the hymn verse is the radical turning of everything upside down. The crude and simple is shown to be the way God works in the world (1 Cor 1). We could just sing the Magnificat and get the same thing, but if we actually took its words seriously we bourgeois pastors would be torn down from our thrones and sent away empty.

      So, there is (should be) something strange about the church. We live in two places at once. Even at the Feast of the Nativity, the event that forces us to confront the strangeness of our existence in Christ. Great conversations — I’m assuming that you have your sermons ready (or are you just, like me, procrastinating?).

  11. Will Schumacher Avatar
    Will Schumacher

    “From the outside, the building itself looked like any other residence on the street.”
    “Our suburban church buildings tend to look like suburban big-box stores.”
    The church is always improvising its place in the world, shaped by the circumstances in which it finds itself, but always a little odd, a little uncomfortable, because it lives from the living Story and Promise of God in Christ. Every homeland is a foreign country, and yet we’re at home in every strange place, just like the Epistle to Diognetus said.
    Of course much of our cultural Christmas in the USA derives more from Victorian England than from the New Testament. So much of it is tasteless kitsch, made worse by shallow affluence. Even the “ancient” Advent wreath is a 19th century, northern European invention. I worked in a place where Christmas fell at the busiest time in the agricultural season (picture Christmas during corn planting season in Iowa!). In that and other non-northern, non-European places (and times), the church has improvised differently, has sung different songs, has feasted without Christmas cookies.
    But the Incarnation is a big deal. And the church, whether in a normal house on a street in Dura-Europos or in an American big-box suburb–and with or without the clueless complicity of the surrounding culture–improvises, and feasts, and sings, and falls silent in wondering awe. And, yes, waits for the appearing of our God and Savior.

  12. Don Stults Avatar
    Don Stults

    I want to take issue with assuming that only time the shepherds are going to watch their flock at night is during the spring. During lambing season they want to keep the flock as close to home as possible and they probably won’t run off even with an angelic message. The shepherds I know are watching their flocks in the bleak mid winter because the coyotes don’t have much else to eat and the sheep are weighed down with wool.

    I have been teaching my people that the date of the Annunciation pre-dates the northern Germanic tribes. December 25 is nine months later.

    While I too struggle to bring the full weight of the law to our celebrations I am not sure the corporate greed is the best target to set up the Christmas Gospel. If the Good News is that God has become man the bad news should be along the lines that man is not that good at being man. What does that mean? How can the excited child hear that man is sinful? I don’t think we should give up on the children in this season but take them in our arms and bless them. Put flesh on your Christmas Gospel and enjoy it.

  13. Gifts « Regeneration Summit Avatar

    […] that often come along with the season in North America (For good discussion and comments click here.)  Some of us are struggling with the cliches, or lamenting how “busy” we are. […]

  14. Daniel Eggold Avatar
    Daniel Eggold

    My sermons are, in fact, done! I spent the day making shut-in visits. The topic of the relationship bewtween the incarnation and eschatological restoration was very appropriate. Merry Christmas, Dr. Kloha. I look forward to your posts in the New Year.

  15. Tim Boerger Avatar
    Tim Boerger

    Thanks for these reflections–and for bringing attention to the Dura-Europos exhibit (I look forward to checking it our once it returns to Yale).

    This is kind of a minor point, but I want to say a word in defense of the ox and ass. I wouldn’t call them fictitious so much as homiletical. They may not occur in the Gospels, but they are certainly biblical. The original source for this pair is not Pseudo-Matthew, but (as Pseudo-Matthew cites) Isaiah 1:3 (“The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand”). The association between Isaiah 1:3 and the Nativity significantly predates Pseudo-Matthew. Augustine and Gregory Nazianzen both make the connection in their Christmas preaching. And I seem to recall that the ox and the ass also occur in the earliest (fourth century?) artistic representations of the Nativity. The presence of these animals at the manger is a shorthand for prophetic fulfillment, as well as a Christological confession: the donkey knows “την ϕατνην του κυριου” (LXX). All of this is indicative of a reading of scripture that, if not strictly historical, is richly intertextual and profoundly theological . . . and, I would argue, ultimately truer than the reading produced by a nude historicism.

  16. David Oberdieck Avatar

    Don Stults — do you know how far back the celebration of the annunciation goes?

  17. Jeff Kloha Avatar
    Jeff Kloha

    Thanks for the conversation everyone, guess there was a whole lot more interest in this than I thought there’d be. I’ll take one more run at this, and then let you all get on to celebrate your Christmas. Nothing here advocates “nude historicism,” what I’m trying to encourage is some reflection on the layers that we (the church) have piled on — all with good intentions, all with the goal of helping teach the incarnation — and to ask whether we are able to hear the actual gospel texts on Christmas any longer. At what point are we celebrating something other than what the Apostle’s taught?

    Donkeys and oxen are natural guesses if you are depicting a manger scene. The earliest representation appears to be a fourth-century sarcophagus now in Milan (see Elliott and Cartlidge, Art and the Christian Apocrypha, 17-18). All is fair game homiletically, I guess, but the gospels clearly teach Christ’s mastery over and harmony with creation in other places (calming of the storm, for example). That is not, however, a point that either Matthew or Luke makes in the birth narratives. Again, let’s read the text, and let the word shape our life.

    As to the specific day of Jesus’ birth, the springtime dating is pretty standard. I don’t know the origins of the Annunciation dating, but it looks rather like someone calculated back from Dec 25, not the other way around. No reason to celebrate an annunciation if you’re not celebrating a birth. And, on the annunciation also, take a look at the Elliott/Cartlidge book for the development of the imagery of that event in later Christian literature and art.

    The artwork from Dura-Europos has been at Yale since the 1930s, should be there for a long time yet, so no hurries. Safe travels.

    1. David Oberdieck Avatar

      Jeff — yes this is a salutary exhortation. How easily we can have the details of the nativity askew by popular images. This will be even more true among many who know the story via t.v. and movies.

      It points out the importance all the more of getting to the heart of Christmas in the incarnation.

      By the way — off point — years ago I made a call on a visitor to my vicarage church. She had a very large white Bible on the coffee table. I asked if she ever read it. Her response was without hesitation and very sincere – I don’t need to read it because I watch the movies.

  18. Don Avatar

    I think I was in Nagel’s class when I heard that the Annunciation pre-dated Christmas celebrations.

    Here are some web clips.

    When the calendar system of Anno Domini was first introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in AD 525, he assigned the beginning of the new year to March 25, since according to Christian theology, the era of grace began with the Incarnation of Christ.

    Scholars are not completely sure whether the date of the Annunciation influenced the date of Christmas, or vice-versa. Before the Church adopted fixed days of celebration, early Christians speculated on the dates of major events in Jesus’ life. Second-century Latin Christians in Rome and North Africa tried to find the day in which Jesus died. By the time of Tertullian (d. AD 225) they had concluded that he died on Friday, March 25, AD 29 (incidentally, this is an impossibility, since March 25 in the year AD 29 was not a Friday). How does the day of Jesus’ death relate to the day of his conception? It comes from the Jewish concept of the “integral age” of the great Jewish prophets. This is the notion that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception. Therefore, if Jesus died on March 25, he was also conceived that day.

    St. Ephraim the Syrian taught that the date of the conception of Jesus Christ fell on 10 Nisan on the Hebrew Calendar, the day in which the passover lamb was selected according to Exodus 12. Some years 10 Nisan falls on March 25, which is the tradition date for the Feast of the Annunciation.

    Anyhow the date for the Annunciation was set before there was a German Lutheran church.

    By the Way it only snows about once a year in London and then only a trace.

  19. David Oberdieck Avatar

    Since John 1:1-14 is the Christmas Day reading can I stretch this post with a question about John 1:1-2?

    Does John begin His Gospel in the name of the Trinity? “The Word was with God” (Father); “The Word was God” (Jesus the same substance of the Father); “He was in the beginning with God (is this the Holy Spirit or just another reference to the Father?)

  20. David Oberdieck Avatar

    On my comment above, since John is referring back to creation (Gen 1) could he be reading the Trinity into Genesis. So that God the Father is creating thru the spoken Word (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit (3d person)is hovering over the waters.

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