Gonzaga: Calamities, Christmas and practical Christianity

Ecoviews & Issues

WE ALL heaved a collective sigh of relief. Typhoon over. Yet, the aftermath of the strong storm that hit the Mimaropa and Eastern Visayas, left thousands homeless, barely surviving rice farmers, wiped out of whatever they have left.

Typhoon Tisoy left at least nine people dead and some P811 million in agricultural damage as it struck a wide swathe of the Philippines, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported Wednesday. More damage was reported today.

After Mindanao’s deadly, destructive earthquake, strong, damaging typhoon Tisoy hit Eastern Visayas and MIMAROPA, portions of Luzon and Metro Manila. How much more can poor Pinoys take?

Calamities and Christmas, how do these two disparate events intertwine? This early, in December, different groups have started celebrating “Christmas”—parties galore, featuring Pinoy favorite foods. Yes, glorious food— pancit of different kinds, arroz valenciana, adobo, ham, Queso de Bola, leche flan, relleno, including the popular centerpiece, pig lechon with apple in its mouth. Middle and upper class Pinoys gorged themselves in good food each Christmas in seemingly endless round of parties.

But what is Christmas? Starting 2018 I have not celebrated Christmas the way I have known it from childhood. The reason, my coming to grips with this historical truth. Are you aware that Christmas as we have known and believed it to be, is of Roman, pagan root? The Roman Catholic Church only settled on a December 25 Christmas in the fourth century. The standard explanation is that the early church conflated its celebration of the nativity with pre-existing pagan festivals. Romans had their Saturnalia, the ancient winter festival, and northern European people had their own solstice traditions. Among the features: parties, gift-giving, and dwellings decorated with greenery.

The reasoning goes that the growing church, recognizing the popularity of the winter festivals, attached its own Christmas celebration to encourage the spread of Christianity. Business historian John Steele Gordon has described the December dating of the nativity as a kind of ancient-world marketing ploy. Yet, according to some church history scholars, Christmas was set near the winter solstice not because of any pagan traditions but based on a series of arcane calendrical computations. This argument hinges on an ancient Jewish tradition that had the great prophets dying on the same dates as their birth or, alternatively, their conception. Thus, to follow this peculiar assumption, the first step in dating Jesus’ birth would be to date his death, which the Gospels say happened at Passover.

The early Christian writer Tertullian calculated that the date given for Jesus’ death in John’s Gospel corresponds to March 25 in the Roman calendar. Many Christian churches came to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, marking the angel Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary to tell her that she would become the mother of Jesus, on this date. Adding nine months to this date produces a December 25 Christmas.

To a growing number of Christians, Christmas has always seemed like a version of a pagan feast—and therefore unworthy of observance. But early on Christian history, father Origen argued against celebrating Jesus’ birthday: “It is only sinners like Pharaoh and Herod who make great rejoicings over the day on which they were born into this world.” The Puritans of 17th-century Massachusetts famously banned the holiday, in part because they found no Biblical authority for celebrating the nativity on December 25. (They also feared the Saturnalia-esque disorder and rowdiness that seemed to go with the holiday.) Quakers, too, abstained from celebrating. Harriet Beecher Stowe has a character in her 1878 novel Poganuc People explain why his family doesn’t observe Christmas: “Nobody knows when Christ was born, and there is nothing in the Bible to tell us when to keep Christmas.”

I choose to celebrate, and thank Abba God for the advent of Immanuel—the one who was born to die, that we, through His sacrificial death on the cross, and by His shed blood, be washed clean of our sins, and be with God forevermore. Whichever view you take, I enjoin you, live out your faith, following the original Christmas message: “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him, shall not die but have eternal life (John3:16). He gave, so the best way to celebrate is to give. Can we forego with the lechon (cost5-6 thousand pesos and increases risk of heart disease), deadly delicious food, and settle for simpler way of celebrating, advent-the coming of Christ?

From the saved party fund, we can give heartily to victims of destructive calamities—ground zero earthquake victims in South Cotabato, the Blaan, and the Mangyan typhoon Tisoy victims, left with destroyed rice fields ready for harvest. Seacrest Foundation, helping the Blaan and has network with the Mangyans of Mindoro, will make sure your precious love gift for our Savior, channeled to the suffering victims of calamities will receive them in good stead.


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