Listen to this devotional:
Listen while you read: "Hail To The Lord's Anointed"1 (Lyrics)
The festival of Sol Invictus, the "Unconquered Sun", on December 25th, was a time when the sun god, Sol, patron of Roman soldiers, was feted. It was a celebration inaugurated by Emperor Aurelian in 274 AD. Houses were decorated with greenery and lights, and presents were given to children and the poor.
Saturnalia was a festival of the renewal of light leading to the winter solstice, featuring an agricultural god, Saturn, and his wife Ops, as its figureheads. It was the greatest Roman festival of the year, a week-long time of celebration lasting from December 17th to 23rd. It also had a component where slaves were given their temporary freedom, and wax figurines were given as presents.
Under the Roman Emperor Constantine I, possibly from 336 AD, the incarnation and birth of Jesus was celebrated on December 25th. In contrast to the pagan celebrations, this was a festival of holy reverence.
Sometime during the latter end of the fourth century, aspects of the Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus and their customs of giving, freedom, and enjoyment were assimilated and re-appropriated into the celebration of Christmas. The celebration of Saturnalia continued side-by-side until at least the eighth century.
The festival of Christmas today is a synthesis of these past commemorations and the human desires to come under patronage, to give and receive, and to belong to a community. As Christians, we become adopted into the family of God, with Jesus as our patron and Saviour. Through His birth, which facilitates the later gift of grace, we become acceptable to God and are accepted, a gift that is beyond our imaginings in human terms — worth celebrating!
At Christmas, we centre on the coming of Jesus into the world. We remember at this time His gift to us of liberation redolent of these former times — not just freedom from sin, but also freedom to receive His love and acceptance, and freedom for joy to give thanks and praise.
John 1:12 – But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (ESV)
In church during Advent, many know the words that Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-3, in which Jesus declares that He is bringing good news to the poor, binding up the broken-hearted, and proclaiming liberty to those who are bound. Further on, the passage reads:
Isaiah 61:10a – I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness. (ESV)
At this time of coming together, even when we are physically apart, let us, with the whole family of God, reaffirm our allegiance to Him, Who being in nature God, gave all, and give Him thanks and praise.
Prayer: Lord, we rejoice in the sacredness of Your incarnation, a mystery that we can only boggle at: the enormity of God with us, Immanuel. May our praises be wholeheartedly aligned in You as we seek to bless and be blessed by You and those we love and see this Christmastide. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.