If one counts back 9 months, or the time necessary for a baby to ready itself within the womb of it’s mother, from Christmas Day one arrives at today, March 25th. I knew nothing of this “feast” until I was scheduled to write on it. It recalls Gabriel’s visit of Mary, letting her know that she would be in 9 months time, the Mother of Jesus.
This festival has been celebrated since the 5th century AD. It commemorates God’s actions in directly entering the human race as Jesus in order to save humanity from their sins. Also celebrated is Mary’s acceptance of God’s task to be the Mother of God. In fact, Mary enthusiastically responds in song (Luke 2:46-55), not realizing the heartbreak it would eventually lead to.
In my study of this Annunciation, I learned that recently the politics of women have become involved with it. Feminists say Mary was put into a inferior, submissive position where she is portrayed as subordinating to male power. Others see Mary, through her faith, making a liberated choice (a choice she could have declined) to cooperate in God’s plan for salvation – a plan that could not happen without a woman’s part in it. In her “Magnificat, ” she celebrates her role in bringing God’s salvation to humankind.
The final controversy regarding their festival is it’s timing. Some say that Jesus was born in the Spring, based on the shepherds visit (Luke 2:8-20). They say shepherds aren’t out at the start of Winter, but are huddled with their animals inside. I find merit in their argument. I also find merit in the placement of Christmas on our calendar as it is. Having both Easter and Christmas, nearly on top of each other, at this time of year looks problematic at best.
Say Jesus’ actual birth date was known positively to be April 3rd, so we celebrate Christmas then. The movement of the moon shifts Easter Sunday’s date on the calendar from as early as March 22nd to as late as April 25th. This reality would shift Christmas to be before Easter some years and after it on others. Occasionally, it could be on the same Sunday. How well would that work in today’s world? Imagine the department stores? Easter and Christmas candy – sold together? Imagine decorating our own homes?
Setting the date of Christmas as the 25th of December has a checkered past. However, given the alternative of really knowing actual date of Jesus’ birth, it seems best as it is. I chalk the seasonal timing of the liturgical seasons up to God’s Providence and our own ignorance. In this case, our blissful ignorance has worked out to a more workable liturgical calendar.