Today, we have wonderfully precise instruments for measuring things. We know that December 21, in the northern hemisphere, is the shortest day of the year, in terms of daylight. To the naked eye, and without such precise tools, ancient people perceived that the daylight lengthened around December 25. In some places people weren’t really sure until January 1. People today still mark the winter solstice and people ring-in the New Year by staying awake awaiting the stroke of mid-night. Some people waited for January 6, a full sixteen days after the solstice, before celebrating.
So, what does the birth of Jesus have to do with the sun?
First of all, we don’t actually know the date Jesus was born. It was the sort of thing that didn’t matter back then. However, in the early Church the birth of Jesus was something people wanted to commemorate. But when? Eventually people settled on December 25 because it was a common time in the culture to celebrate the lengthening of days and the New Year. After all, it was said of Jesus that he is the Light of the world, the Sun of righteousness and the Dayspring from on high. There couldn’t be a better time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, not even his actual birthdate (if we knew it).
Secondly, Christmas is partly about commemorating the birth of the Saviour of the world, but it’s also about the birth of God in our lives. Often people describe this as a kind of awakening, like the difference between night and day; like the dawn. It is an experience wonderfully expressed in the hymn, Amazing Grace, “I was blind, but now I see.”
Thirdly, the clarity of vision that comes with knowing Christ allows us to see that we are accompanied by a whole group of people willing to guide us on our journey of life, which is a journey of faith. And the benefit of this community of believers is immeasurable.