There is some debate over the exact date of the birth of Jesus Christ. But our date is historically accurate according to the standards of the time in which He was born. Luke describes it this way: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to his own town to register.” There is no day or month given; it is a time that is known to people of that era and place.
John introduces the era of Jesus’ and John the Baptist’s ministry with a presentation of important people. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius plate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysinias tetrarch of Abilene – during the priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zecharias in the desert.” Taylor Gardner, the well-known preacher of Concord Baptist Church, Brooklyn, contemporizes it in this very creative way: “In the day when Eisenhower was president, Hoover was in charge of the secret services, and Billy Graham was the high priest, the word of the Lord came to Martin Luther King Jr. in the wilderness of the United States.”
The certainty of the Lord Christ’s birth is attested to by historians, but we do not have the exact date. It was not because they did not have days or months, but because that is not how they kept records.
Thus the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ was ascribed to a certain day and month in the fourth century. The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church assign different dates for his birth and resurrection based on different calendars. The debate over the exact date of Christ’s birth became less important during the time of the Reformation and especially among the English Puritans. They knew that he was born and they worshiped him, but they did not celebrate Christmas in New England. Slowly most of the Protestants throughout the world started to celebrate Christmas based on the celebration of others in their communities. So Protestants in Eastern Orthodox countries celebrate the major holidays with the Eastern Orthodox while the Protestants in Catholic countries celebrate with the Catholics.
Every so often, there is a year with two consecutive days of celebration on the Christian calendar. On Saturday, December 24, most Protestant Churches will celebrate Christmas Eve. This year, Christmas Day is on a Sunday. Both Catholic and Orthodox believers have no problem going to church two days in a row (even though attendance is better on one day than the other). But many Protestant pastors had a meeting with their leaders because their congregants told them that they are not able to come to church for both services. It is interesting to hear usually non-traditional Protestants now employing tradition by saying that it is not the Protestant tradition to come to church two days in a row, no matter what holiday we are celebrating.
I understand all three arguments. Many people argue that once a year it is important to sacrifice and go to church two days in a row. Other people feel like they are too tired to do one more thing on Christmas. Still others know that God wants us to worship freely, cheerfully, and voluntarily and going two days in a row becomes an imposition. I want to present all three arguments without becoming like a Pharisee in the process. But I do find myself wondering why we emphasize the minutia of the holiday instead of the cause for our celebration and when our worship was reduced to just an hour or two each week.