In America today, there are a great number of people who are unaware of their birthday. It’s fairly common in the Cambodian immigrant community who may have multiple siblings. Very old black Americans too were likely to have a date fed to them because records of black folk were not the top priority of their birthing midwives, doctors or mothers out there in a field. My own grandfather knew the city of his birth, but not the affirmed and government attested date.
But if you were in that same situation. Knew little to nothing about what day you were born, what date would you choose?
Would it be a date steeped in history? A date that currently is someone else’s to emulate them? Perhaps in a way to honor them because of some way they touched your life? Or would you choose a date that has negative associations in an effort to flip the script? To make a positive spin on the day. To change the conversation, if you will?
I wonder if that is the same question asked by Christian leaders in the early church.
It’s well known that Jesus The Christ was a real person. Certainly a prophet and influential leader. I will not entertain arguments of his divinity. But for this blogs point, let’s simply accept that he was and is a powerful influence to millions throughout human history, if nothing else. Since we know that at least that much is true, I think its safe to assume the early Christians knew that his birth and death occurred. But they may likely have been at least ambivalent on the exact date of either. What date could they assume? Assume as in the definition of take on as your own. In my sanctified imagination, they had a serious problem. The people of God wanted to celebrate and honor his death and his birth.
So, again, the early Christian leaders came upon a problem. The scrolls and letters that were being congealed into today’s bible didn’t explicitly answer the question of His birth. Nor of his death. A least not beyond the day of the week. Were these early authors really all that different from the Cambodians and Black Americans I mentioned before?
Consider this possibility, if you will. We are alive, but realistically we are unsure of the actual date. In fact, to be real about it, the only reason we can observe our own birth on an annual basis is because we believed whomever it was that presented us a slip of paper with a seal on it that listed our name and a date saying this is the certificate of our birth.
Do you actually recall the date of your birth and have you tracked that date from then to now chronologically with calendar in hand? I think not. You accept certain truths (as you are able to accept them) all the time with no real evidence beyond what someone you never met wrote down. Does that make you gullible? I don’t believe so. What it really means is that we accept certain things on faith.
Just as Christians do.
I know. If your are not a person of faith, this truth may upset you. But it is still the truth.
I imagine that the choice early Christians had was not an enviable one. They needed to commemorate the birth and death of Jesus. But what days? I’m not excusing the day early Christian zealots choice to place His birthday and sacrifice day on, but to ignore the days altogether is disrespectful. Yes, they placed His death on a preexisting holiday and the title sounded rather similar. And His birth was placed over a pagan holiday as a means to replace the local pagan religions with the new one. I’ll accept that truth.
So what was the point? What was their true intent? What would be mine? Or yours? What point can be made to even bother celebrating a birthday of the divine? The point, to me, is not to curry favor with God.
It is to show love.
Celebration of another human, or God, is not, to me, a thing to add currency in a spiritual bank account for the hear after. It is simply a celebration of the love I have for the other who has manifest some part of themselves in me. We are broken vessels, eager to be rebuilt and made whole. In that endeavor, we tend to seek approval and do things that we only hope will restore us. But that act alone does NOT make us heathens by commemorating the assassination of Jesus the Christ.
If my mother died, I would commemorate her passing on the anniversary. Not because I refuse to move forward. But because knowing and retelling my past allows me to remember and hopefully learn from it. Its the same reason we tell the old stories of uncle so and so when he got drunk or sister such and such when she got into college. Because we love them, and we do not wish to forget. So just because Jesus didn’t tell us to recall his passing doesn’t make it wrong to do so. Just be sure its celebrated for the correct reasons.