Why, if it's not known when Jesus was born, exactly, do we celebrate Jesus' birth at about the same time of the old winter solstice celbrations? Well, a cynical answer might be that it was just a good idea for the then-new upstart religion (Christianity) to co-opt other celebrations anyway, the most famous being the ancient Roman Saturnalia feast, which also had school holidays and presents), and the cynical answer is that this is why so many religions put their heroes birthdays on December 25, including Mithra, Dionysus, and a long list of others.
But it goes deeper than that. It's about the age old answer that light, in the end, can win out over darkness, and that's what people celebrated at the winter solstice, when the days (finally!) started getting longer again. Deep within the heart of the nativity story is the idea of God coming to us as a little, helpless baby (swaddled babies can't even move their arms and legs), bridging an otherwise unbridgable gap so that we can be in relationship, because God loves being in relationship with us. It's a joyful and loving message full of hope and life.
Here is a little doggy—Blondie—who, with the good help of a gentle and loving veterinarian,
survived an otherwise fatal dose of dark chocolate on Christmas day, 2009.
Dr. Eric Barchas at the North Peninsula Veterinary
Emergency Clinic watched over her all night
along with a few other sick pets. In 2005 Blondie was rescued from the streets by the
local Humane Society (the pound). She had been either lost or abandoned by her
previous owner; her new owner is currently feeling terrible about having left
Christmas chocolate within her reach.
God doesn't work alone, but with us as God's hands and feet. Martin Luther King spoke most eloquently on that point, that believing God will just fix things, without our help, is superstition. Without the veterinarian acting as God's hands in this case, expecting the lethal dose of dark chocolate not to kill Blondie would have been superstitious (and derelict). The triumph of light over darkness is also the triumph of illumination over superstition, the triumph of joy over sadness, of hope over desolation.
Jesus' name can be analyzed to reveal an abbreviation for God Heals1 and that's fitting, because Jesus arrived with a healing message of peace and love, hope and help, forgiveness and non-judgmental, active nonviolence over vengeance: light over darkness.
...the light of the world
1 Jesus' name in Hebrew was Joshua, or Je - Shuah. The second syllable is 'heals' and the first, Yahu/Yah is an abbreviation for YHWH, the never pronounced name of G*d: YAHU'SHUAH, God Heals.