Traditionally the prophet Jeremiah, who witnessed the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., is thought to be the author of Lamentations. Perhaps the most spiritually tortured of the prophets, Jeremiah had a lot to lament.
Jeremiah saw the divine judgment on Jerusalem, among the lowest earthly moments in Israel’s history. Whether Jeremiah penned Lamentations or not—technically its writer is anonymous—the book, says my NIV study Bible, “poignantly shares the overwhelming sense of loss that accompanied the destruction of the city, temple, and ritual as well as the exile of Judah’s inhabitants.”
Lamentations, which follows Jeremiah in the Old Testament, is a deeply poetic and heavily structured cry that complains not about God’s judgment but about Israel’s disobedience. “Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean…” (Lamentations 1:8)
I bring this up just before Christmas not as a lament that the sincere “Christmas message” about hope and Jesus tends to get lost in the secular swirl of commercial Yuletide largesse, but because I notice throughout history that God keeps coming back for us. He does it every year at Christmas. It’s like an automatic renewal offer on a life insurance policy, and it extends over many eras. We must return to Jesus.
I was surprised to learn just recently, for example, that Christmas Day, December 25, formally became an official United States federal holiday not until June 26, 1870, and then by decree of President Ulysses S. Grant. Yes, it was right after the Civil War and it provided a common point of celebration and reconciliation for severely torn and previously regionally isolated national cultures. Before that Christmas was barely noticed, gift-giving was basically unheard of, and in America, school was in session.
But notice this. Just then in history—1870—as science in both Europe and America academically began to overtake theology, philosophy, and the thinking arts, that is precisely when Christmas was installed here as a national holiday. The scholarly world was falling for Darwin and technology; and Christmas was put on the calendar.
Looking back you could almost see it as a place-holder for America to re-find its Christian bearings. Christmas became popular at precisely the point in history that science sought to nullify Christ. Jesus never goes away very far.
Christmas, a 4th-century Roman creation, is not mentioned in the Bible. In fact, no holidays, feasts, temples, or festivals are prescribed in the New Testament. The Old Covenant of Israel had all that stuff as a way to be in the presence of God, but the New Covenant in Christ teaches that God’s love is in our hearts everywhere, all the time.
“Old Fashioned Christmas”? I’d say that didn’t even exist much before the 1930s, or maybe the post-World War II American cultural reset. It is interesting to note the centuries-old development of celebratory Christmas traditions—trees, gifts, wrapped gifts, lights, Santa Clause, music, greeting cards, family gatherings, community events, feasts, and charity services—that are really developments of the last century or two.
Many of us do not need Christmas to remember Christ. But for many others, it provides an automatic renewal of a reminder that Jesus is a very big deal. It’s up to us to tell the story of God’s love, and I notice God is right there willing to help us.
Walters (firstname.lastname@example.org) loves Jesus but is a sucker for Christmas traditions. BTW, here is a link to an interesting article about the development of Christmas traditions: Christmas in 19th Century America | History Today. For more of Walters’ columns, see commonchristianity.blogspot.com. For his books, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/CommonChristianity.