POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 25, 2010
The classic Nativity scene of Jesus' birth in a manger is a cultural icon at Christmas, but "it's not just a fairy tale," says the Rev. Ruth Peterson, pastor of the Joy of Christ Lutheran Church in Pearl City. "It's something we believe happened in a real time and in a real place.
"Not just Christian historians tell us that, but Roman historians verified different parts of the story," she said.
The first to be informed of the birth were shepherds, who were "not held in high regard -- they were smelly and lived in the field," she said. "For God to choose them said God came to be with even the least important and the lowliest of us; that all people, regardless of how the world sees them, are held in esteem by God."
Peterson paraphrased from the Book of Matthew 1:18-256, which said Joseph was told by an angel, "Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. This child was conceived by the Holy Spirit to save his people from their sins."
She said, "He came as a Jewish messiah. ... The wise men were not Jewish, but they were led by the Holy Spirit to come and pay homage. This tells us salvation is for all people, not just Jewish people."
Today Christians are celebrating the birth of their savior Jesus Christ, though Dec. 25 was probably not his actual birthday, and he could have been born 2,004 to 2,006 years ago. It is believed Christ was born between the years A.D. 4 and 6, but the Gregorian calendar is off by a few years, Peterson said.
"It doesn't really matter," however, what his actual date of birth is, she said. Just the fact that he came into this world is vitally important to those who believe Jesus was the son of God, not just a prophet, she said.
"Christmas is not just a day, but a season," which begins today and continues until Jan. 6 -- that's where the 12 days of Christmas come from, she said.
Mainline Christian churches, which are "liturgically centered," have been observing Advent the past four Sundays, a time of penitence and preparation for Christmas. It includes the ceremonious lighting of an Advent wreath, and decorating a tree with symbolic crosses and stars. In Peterson's church she does not allow Christmas carols to be sung during this period, though other churches might not be as strict.
It is hard for consumer-driven Americans to accept Advent, which technically ends when Christmas begins, since they have been celebrating Christmas since the day after Thanksgiving, Peterson said.
Epiphany, which falls on Jan. 6, celebrates the coming of the three wise men, bearing gifts, Peterson said.