The Queen’s birthday is a national holiday in Canada. We celebrate it on what is described as the “May 24th long weekend.”
May 24 is not the birthday of the reigning queen, Elizabeth II but that of her great-great- grandmother, Victoria, who reigned for most of the 19th century. People got used to the May holiday during Victoria’s more than 60 years on the throne, and subsequent monarchs have celebrated it too. (If you must know. Elizabeth’s actual birthday is April 21. She was 90 this year.)
We also celebrate the king’s birthday in Canada, every December 25. Christmas Day is not the date of birth for the queen’s husband (who indeed is not our king). It probably also wasn’t the date of birth of the king we celebrate, Jesus Christ, whose birthday is the reason for the season. No-one thought to record the date at the time.
Something I read years ago suggested shepherds were unlikely to be watching their flocks on the hillsides near Bethlehem at the end of December. I gather it can be pretty cold, with not much vegetation for the flocks to munch on. December 25 was chosen as the holiday for political, not historical reasons. The celebration of Jesus’ birthday was to replace an already existing Roman holiday. I can live with that. The date isn’t important; the meaning is.
When I was a child I used to love the Christmas story as recorded by Matthew and Luke. My church had a Christmas pageant each December, and over the years I got to play most of the parts. When you were young you got non-speaking parts, perhaps a shepherd or a back row member of the angel choir. Then you moved up to the bigger roles; inn keeper, wise man, angel Gabriel or even Joseph. The pageant was slightly different each year. The story remained (and remains) timeless.
As an adult I find myself more drawn to John’s rendition of the Christmas story. Indeed, I was an adult before I realized those first few verses of John’s gospel are meant to be a retelling of how (and why) Jesus was born.
To me there is power and majesty, and a little bit of mystery, in John’s account.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1) That’s the very beginning, before the advent of time; our brains have difficulty grasping the concept.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:14) A conscious choice. The intersection of the eternal with the temporal. How is that even possible? Except, as we read elsewhere, all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)
So this evening, as the candles are lit in the annual Christmas Eve service, I will be pondering once more that God so loved the world that he sent his only son. (John 3:16)
These days that is not a politically correct idea. Our society really doesn’t want to hear it. Matthew and Luke give us a tale of a baby, something easy to relate to. And easy to digest if you don’t go beyond the first couple of chapters to see what happened to the baby when he got older.
John is perhaps harder to understand but far more powerful in his telling of the story. To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)
That is a message of hope for this Christmas Eve, no matter what your circumstances.
May the God of peace be with you.