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Christmas Light in Winter's Darkness View Comments
By Kathleen M. Carroll

WE ALL KNOW the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. In Scripture, each Gospel writer tells the story a little differently. Matthew begins his Gospel with “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah...” before setting down his telling of the Nativity story. Luke gives the most detailed and comprehensive account of the birth of Jesus, with great emphasis on the Marian aspect of the story.

Mark and John both begin with Jesus’ encounter with John the Baptist, skipping over the story of Jesus’ life prior to the events that led to his public ministry. John’s Gospel, in fact, presents a mystical account of Jesus’ entry into the world with the words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). For most of us, however, the Gospel stories, our traditions and even a few elements contributed by pious and not-so-pious authors have merged into one big story about the birth of Jesus.

We know that Jesus was conceived by the Virgin Mary and born in Bethlehem in the humblest of surroundings. We know that wise men from the East followed a star to honor the newborn king, that Joseph had dreams that helped him protect the child and his mother. Our songs and traditions incorporate some or all of these elements into our celebrations and occasionally embellish a detail or invent new stories altogether. “The Little Drummer Boy,” for example, will not be peeking at you from the pages of any Bible.

Christmas wasn’t quite “Christmas” that first year, though. It was simply Jesus’ birthday. While his mother and earthly father and a few foreign gentlemen had an idea that this was no ordinary child, most people were not attaching the word “Christ” to him just yet.

So while Jesus was growing up, he and his family didn’t celebrate Christmas. Their family life centered on the holy days of the Jewish faith they all embraced. Though the Gospel writers don’t always go to great pains to spell this out for us (there is really very little about Jesus’ childhood in Scripture), it is evident in the stories about the presentation in the Temple (remember Simeon and Anna?) and in the finding in the Temple (after Jesus’ three-day disappearance). We can’t say with certainty that Mary and Joseph didn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth day, but the word birthday appears just once in the Bible (Genesis 40:20), to refer to the pharaoh’s birthday.

When did the celebration we call Christmas really start? About 300 years after the birth of Jesus.

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Kathleen M. Carroll is managing editor of books for St. Anthony Messenger Press.

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Cyril and Methodius: Because their father was an officer in a part of Greece inhabited by many Slavs, these two Greek brothers ultimately became missionaries, teachers and patrons of the Slavic peoples. 
<p>After a brilliant course of studies, Cyril (called Constantine until he became a monk shortly before his death) refused the governorship of a district such as his brother had accepted among the Slavic-speaking population. Cyril withdrew to a monastery where his brother Methodius had become a monk after some years in a governmental post. </p><p>A decisive change in their lives occurred when the Duke of Moravia (present-day Czech Republic) asked the Eastern Emperor Michael for political independence from German rule and ecclesiastical autonomy (having their own clergy and liturgy). Cyril and Methodius undertook the missionary task. </p><p>Cyril’s first work was to invent an alphabet, still used in some Eastern liturgies. His followers probably formed the Cyrillic alphabet (for example, modern Russian) from Greek capital letters. Together they translated the Gospels, the psalter, Paul’s letters and the liturgical books into Slavonic, and composed a Slavonic liturgy, highly irregular then. </p><p>That and their free use of the vernacular in preaching led to opposition from the German clergy. The bishop refused to consecrate Slavic bishops and priests, and Cyril was forced to appeal to Rome. On the visit to Rome, he and Methodius had the joy of seeing their new liturgy approved by Pope Adrian II. Cyril, long an invalid, died in Rome 50 days after taking the monastic habit. </p><p>Methodius continued mission work for 16 more years. He was papal legate for all the Slavic peoples, consecrated a bishop and then given an ancient see (now in the Czech Republic). When much of their former territory was removed from their jurisdiction, the Bavarian bishops retaliated with a violent storm of accusation against Methodius. As a result, Emperor Louis the German exiled Methodius for three years. Pope John VIII secured his release. </p><p>Because the Frankish clergy, still smarting, continued their accusations, Methodius had to go to Rome to defend himself against charges of heresy and uphold his use of the Slavonic liturgy. He was again vindicated. </p><p>Legend has it that in a feverish period of activity, Methodius translated the whole Bible into Slavonic in eight months. He died on Tuesday of Holy Week, surrounded by his disciples, in his cathedral church. </p><p>Opposition continued after his death, and the work of the brothers in Moravia was brought to an end and their disciples scattered. But the expulsions had the beneficial effect of spreading the spiritual, liturgical and cultural work of the brothers to Bulgaria, Bohemia and southern Poland. Patrons of Moravia, and specially venerated by Catholic Czechs, Slovaks, Croatians, Orthodox Serbians and Bulgarians, Cyril and Methodius are eminently fitted to guard the long-desired unity of East and West. In 1980, Pope John Paul II named them additional co-patrons of Europe (with Benedict).</p> American Catholic Blog This is the beauty of self-giving love: Men and women, driven by love, freely choose to give up their autonomy, to limit their freedom, by committing themselves to the good of the spouse. Love is so powerful that it impels them to want to surrender their will to their beloved in this profound way.

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