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The Reason for the Season

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy
The Truth Network Radio
December 21, 2022 2:12 pm

The Reason for the Season

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy

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December 21, 2022 2:12 pm

In this special edition of Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs talks all things Christmas with Dr. Michael Barber, from the origins of our traditions to the biblical justification for making Christmas a long celebration. 


Welcome to Family Policy Matters an engaging and informative weekly radio show and podcast produced by the North Carolina Family Policy Council. You are equipped to be a voice of persuasion for family values in your community, state, and nation.

And now here is our host of Family Policy Matters, Tracey Devette Griggs. Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. The sights, sounds, and smells of the Christmas season are all around us. Well, let's consider this next 15 minutes an opportunity to reflect on and bask in the true meaning of this holy day and season. Here to help us explore the deeper meaning and history of this time of year is the author of the book, The True Meaning of Christmas, The Birth of Jesus and the Origins of the Season.

Dr. Michael Barber, welcome to Family Policy Matters. Thank you so much for having me with you. Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas to you. Well, we know the nativity story, but so many of the traditions that surround Christmas are not found in Scripture. So where did all of this other stuff come from? Well, they come from lots of different places. In fact, most of the things that people are familiar with when it comes to Christmas actually in some way do go back to the Bible, but not to the nativity story itself. So take, for example, the common way we depict the nativity with an ox and a donkey in the manger scene, right?

That's a pretty common staple of manger scenes. But if you go back and you read the Gospels, you don't find any mention of a donkey or an ox. So where do we get that idea that there's a donkey or an ox at the birth of Jesus? If we go back to the book of Isaiah, and in particular in the beginning of the book of Isaiah, it talks about how the ox knows its owner and the donkey knows the manger of its Lord.

But Israel has not known me. That's from Isaiah 1-3. And if you go back and, for example, the Middle Ages, you'll see when Francis of Assisi set up the first manger scene, he drew from this passage and putting a donkey and an ox in the manger scene. And actually, this passage is related to Jesus' birth long before Francis of Assisi.

You can go all the way back to the fourth or fifth century and you'll find Christian writers interpreting this passage as a prophecy regarding the Lord who's in the manger. So really amazing to find out that some of these traditions actually are rooted in the Bible, even if we don't know which biblical passages are the source for them. Well, what about some false ideas?

Surely there are some of those. What are some that we even as Christians have absorbed? I think one common idea is that lots of the things that we have in the Christian celebration are pagan. You'll hear people talk about, for example, the Christmas tree as originally part of a pre-Christian pagan festival in Germanic lands.

But if you actually look at the historical evidence, that actually isn't true. We don't know much about those pre-Christian pagan festivals because those pre-Christians were not literate in those realms. So they weren't able to write down their traditions. We do know that there were some kinds of festivals like Yule.

Yule seems to be a word that referred to a winter month. But Christmas trees originally being part of a pagan celebration actually doesn't pass the smell test. What actually happened was in the Middle Ages, they would celebrate the Feast of Adam and Eve on December 24th. And to recall what happened in the garden, they would put on plays to help people know the scriptures because people, of course, were often illiterate.

They couldn't read. And so what they would do is they would put on plays, and the guy who was at the center of the play was Adam, and he would carry a tree through the streets that symbolized, of course, the tree at the heart of the fall narrative in Genesis 3. They would decorate it with apples, and the trees became more than just a prop for plays.

They ended up using them to promote these pageants that they would put on. And of course, in the New Testament, the tree is also an image of the cross, right? Christ dies on the tree. So the tree became also an image of Adam as a symbol of Christ.

He's just a new Adam, as Paul would say. And so that's really where we get Christmas trees. By the time of the 15th century, we already have evidence in Freeburg, for example, that people were decorating trees not just to promote these plays, but put them in churches and in houses and hospitals and other places. And it becomes part of the Christmas season through all of that. So it actually does have biblical roots, believe it or not, and not primarily pagan. Some Christians get kind of bent out of shape this time of the year. Is that our attitude?

Or is it okay? Is it even good for those who don't know or believe the true Christmas story to still celebrate this holiday? I'm very much a fan of Christmas. You know, a lot of my friends get frustrated when they see the Christmas decorations going up in the stores right after Halloween. It's not even Christmas yet. They got all the decorations up and people will say this is just a result of the commercialization of Christmas. But to me, this points to people's deep longing for what Christ has come to give us. And I think people associate Christmas with their deepest longings. You know, they want to go home at Christmas, or I'm dreaming of a white Christmas. Christmas causes people to dream and to think about family and loved ones.

They want homecoming. And the truth is we find that homecoming ultimately with the Father in Christ. And so I don't have a problem with our culture wanting to celebrate Christmas. I just like to talk about the true meaning of Christmas to help people recognize that there is a reason for the season. And it's not just elves.

It's not just all these fun things that have emerged. We could talk more about those, the ghosts of Christmas past or the growth of Christmas future or what have you. But at the end of the day, you can't get away from Christ.

His name's right there in the middle of the night. And I like to help people turn their attention to that and see that all these other trappings we have of Christmas are ultimately pointing to people's longing for him. Right. So it gives us an opportunity to make that connection for them. What about these deepest longings that you mentioned? Is it a good thing?

Is it a healthy thing for our society to reconnect with some of those sometimes, especially people that may be very busy and especially engaged in business and other less soft endeavors? I think it's really important. People will say, but it's Christmas.

That's the showstopper, isn't it? It doesn't matter what your plans were when someone says, but it's Christmas. They have the sense that we should expect more from each other at this time of year. And, you know, that really goes back in a pronounced way to Charles Dickens, who wrote that great story, The Christmas Carol. In that book, Fred explains to his uncle Scrooge why Christmas is such an important time of year. And he talks about how it's at this time of year that people really think of others as if they were fellow passengers to the grave, he says.

But go on and you read the rest of what Fred says. He says the reason that this is ultimately such a holy day is because of its sacred name. Christ is right there in the middle of it. Dickens is pointing to something that people really felt in the 19th century, and that was Christmas speaks to this desire we have for something more in our lives. Maybe it's the darkness of winter. Maybe this is a natural time for people to be thinking about death. After all, all the trees have gone barren, all the leaves have fallen off. You know, where I live, you go outside just long enough, you'll die. It's colder outside than it is in my freezer some days.

That's not healthy. So maybe that causes you to think about your own mortality. But either way, this is an important opportunity for us who are believers to be able to share that in fact death is not the end and that we see the Savior who has come who can bring us life and peace.

So I think it's a great opportunity to share that message. I love the way all the trappings and all the traditions remind us that there's something extraordinary about our lives. It's an extraordinary season. Well, let's talk about this long season because I happen to be one of those. I mean, I get those Christmas decorations up.

They're everywhere in my house and they stay up as long as my husband will let me leave them up. So is there some good to that? Is it a good thing to have more of a season than just to celebrate a day or two?

I think it's really important. And of course, that's the ancient Christian tradition is that Christmas isn't simply just a day. And you see that in that classic song, the 12 days of Christmas, right? The idea that Christmas extends beyond December 25.

And really, the idea was that you celebrate Christmas from December 25 to the feast of the coming of the Magi, the Epiphany. And you actually see that in the biblical narratives, right? There's a kind of extended season of Christ's nativity, because in the Gospel of Luke, we have the shepherds come the night Jesus is born. But Luke doesn't tell us about the Magi coming. That's only found in the Gospel of Matthew.

And what's interesting about that is when Herod wants to kill the child the Magi have come to visit, he says that the soldier should kill all the children two years and younger. So that seems to indicate that there's been some passage of time since the time Jesus was born and the arrival of the Magi. And so it's appropriate then to recognize that the birth of Jesus is not just a single moment, but there is a kind of extended period where we should reflect on this.

We really need to give the biblical stories their due. It's appropriate to think about the shepherds on December 25. But it's also nice to have a special day where we think about the significance of the Magi. And then there are other things, of course, in between all that, that have been significant in Christian tradition, like as we know from the song Good King Wenceslas went out on what? The Feast of Stephen. That's December 26.

Traditionally, why? Because Stephen is the first Christian martyr in Christian tradition. And then on December 27, the tradition was that you think about John, the apostle.

And the idea was that John, he dies, of course, later in life. He isn't able to give his life as a martyr. They try to kill him according to various traditions, but he comes to represent for many Christians, the idea that you give your life to Christ, not just in martyrdom, but in a willingness to lay down your life, your entire life. And so all these different days help us think about the significance of Christ's birth. Stephen dies as a martyr, giving his life once in a moment.

But then, of course, John lives longer. And then the next feast is the Feast of the Holy Innocent, the little children who are massacred in Bethlehem. And the idea is we think about the different ways people have died. So one medieval writer explains that there are three kinds of martyrdom, he says. The first is willed, like Stephen. The second is willed, but not endured, John. And the third is endured, but not necessarily in a way that's fully aware of what's happening with the innocent children at Bethlehem. And so they represent different kinds of suffering that we're called into because of the significance of Christ's birth. By reading your book, you discover that you are pretty fond of Christmas carols. So why is that?

I am. I love Christmas songs. So my book begins, every chapter begins with a Christmas song. So I start with what you're familiar with and kind of explain what the biblical roots are, the historical roots are for various things that we talk about in those songs. And there are silly ones.

Grandma got ran over by a reindeer. But the ones that really endure are the ones that especially speak to those deepest longings. I think, for example, of the song that Judy Garland sings in Meet Me in St. Louis. The song was written for that movie where we talk about have yourself a merry little Christmas. The words of that song are really sad. In fact, the original song was so sad, the producers made them rewrite the lyrics because people couldn't get through the scene.

It was so emotional. But even the final version that we all know, here we are as an olden days, happy golden days of yore. We're here, we're going to celebrate Christmas this year as we have our whole lives. And when we think back on Christmas past, Christmas present never measures up to Christmas past. Christmas past always seems to overshadow what we have in the present. This is the human tendency to romanticize about the past. We forget the difficult times.

Remember the best things about days in the past. Faithful friends who are dear to us, gathering near to us once more. We don't know how many more times we're going to be able to celebrate Christmas with the ones who are seated around the dinner table.

And so one day, the days we celebrate now will be the golden days of Europe. Everybody's longing for something at Christmas to hold on to. Everybody's longing for the true meaning of Christmas.

And I love that people are singing about it. There's no such thing as Labor Day magic. Nobody talks about Labor Day magic. Christmas magic, everybody's heard of that. And I think that that points to the fact that the message that's at the heart of Christmas, not the same thing that's at the heart of Labor Day, right, or even the Fourth of July, that's the birth of the Savior. And in one way, shape or form, Christmas reminds us that we are longing for what it is he was born to give to us.

And I love those songs because it helps highlight that those journeys for homecoming. People want to be with the ones that they love. They want to be with their family. They want to be home for the holidays.

Right? But we can go home. It doesn't matter where we are, because our true home isn't here on earth. Our true Father is the one in heaven. And Christ is our brother.

And we are brothers and sisters in him. And if we really understand that message, Christmas will never let us down, because we recognize that what's most important isn't the gifts that we receive, or even the meals that we eat, not even the people that are around us at the table, but ultimately, it's the Christ child in the manger. And if we recognize Christ among us, then there's no limit to the joy that we can have at Christmas time. And that's a really good point to stop on, because I feel like for some people, Christmas is not a happy time.

And so the sense that Christ is always in Christmas, and that he is truly there for us, I think can help even those people who may not love gathering around the dining room table with their family every year. So we're just about out of time. Before we go, Dr. Michael Barber, where can our listeners go to get a copy of your book? Find it on

That's probably the easiest way. Just type it into Google, you'll find various booksellers that have it. And I've done a number of videos on YouTube and things like that based on the book, too.

So people want to get a little bit more information about what we cover there. At the end of the day, the point of the book is that the birth of Jesus really is the true meaning of Christmas. And here's the time of year where we can talk about the Lord with people who maybe other times of the year aren't that interested in the gospel message. I hope the book will be a nice gift for people to share with those who want to talk about Christ. Dr. Michael Barber, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters and Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas to you as well. You've been listening to Family Policy Matters. We hope you enjoyed the program and plan to tune in again next week. To listen to this show online and to learn more about NC Family's work to inform, encourage and inspire families across North Carolina, go to our website at That's Thanks again for listening and may God bless you and your family.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-21 17:16:49 / 2022-12-21 17:23:26 / 7

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