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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.

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About the author:

Rod Marshall <>
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England

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1 Comment

  • PresbyCan Feedback says:

    Well worth knowing!

    Thanks for sharing, Rod.

    Thank you, Rod. A gift beyond imagining, for sure.

    Thanks, Rod, for a preparation for the celebration!

    Thanks for sharing.
    Rich and powerful devotional.

    Thanks, Rod, for this very informative devotional and blessings for the writings you do.

    Thank you for sharing this enlightening devotional with us. Old habits and practices do die hard! Blessings.

    Thank you Rod for your explanation and encouragement regarding Christmas.
    (British Columbia, Canada)

    Rod, an excellent synopsis suitable for the classroom and definitely shareable with my teacher son.

    Thank you for sharing this history and scriptural background for our meaningful celebration of Christmas. Thank you for praying that we may rejoice in the sacredness of His incarnation.

    Dear Rod:
    As I like to say after church service, “Yea GOD!”
    He is Lord! Praise to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ!
    Merry Christmas Rod to you and your family.

    Hi Rod. Thank you for another excellent devotional. So interesting to learn about the origins of Christmas celebrations. I knew Christmas had initially been tucked into a Roman festival but didn’t know the details.
    May you and your family have a very Merry Christmas.

    Dear Rod,
    Thank you for the education of how our celebration of December 25th grew into how we celebrate the birth of Jesus looking forward to the hope his resurrection provides to all Christians today. Jesus’ love for the whole world is definitely mind boggling to humans as we have trouble some days even loving ourselves much less others. As I join with you in your prayers as we begin the season of Advent and how we need to be prepared for the second coming of Christ.
    It is always a pleasure to learn more and be reminded of the important moments along our faith journey. Blessings.

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