The word ‘Christmas’ occurs nowhere in the Bible. It is an old English word that means ‘Christ’s Mass’ which refers to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, i.e. the Mass. The earliest occurrence of the word on record is 1038 A.D. Christians at this time considered the Mass (Lord’s Supper) to be the most important part of the celebration of Christ’s birth, hence it came to be called Christmas.
There’s a poignant scene in the animated TV classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” when Charlie Brown, frustrated with the over-commercialization of the holiday, exclaims, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” To this, Linus responds by reciting the story of Jesus’ birth as it’s described in the book of Luke:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.”
Luke’s biography records how Mary and her husband Joseph left their home in Nazareth to travel to Joseph’s ancestral home, Bethlehem, to enroll in the census ordered by the Roman emperor, Augustus. Finding no room in inns in the town, they set up primitive lodgings in a stable. There Mary gave birth to Jesus in a manger or stall. Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the home of the house of King David from which Joseph was descended, fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah. This is confirmed to Mary by a visit from angels and shepherds.
Despite all the holiday hoopla we’re accustomed to seeing this time of year, the birth of Jesus is what Christmas is all about, an event that changed the course of history and gave rise to one of the world’s great religions.