Christ in Saturnalia.

The title of this post is chosen deliberately to raise a few eyebrows. Especially from those Christians who oppose the celebration of Christmas because it is based on a pagan festival. The pagan festival in question being Saturnalia. How can Christ be associated with a festival named after the pagan god Saturn and associated with drunken excess? It seems mad to many Christians these days that this should have “Christianised” into Christmas. However one has to understand something of the importance of Saturnalia in the Roman Empire. The civilisation and economy of the Roman Empire was based on the institution of slavery. During Saturnalia the roles of the slaves and their masters were reversed and for one week in the year the owners and their families served the slaves. This became an important safety valve in the social order of the Empire preventing many Spartacus style slave revolts.
When the second person of the Trinity who was involved in the Creation of the universe was born in the form of a human baby he came to act as a servant and not as the master of the universe. So there is a sense that when we see Jesus in the Gospels we see Him in the reverse of his role in eternity. Just as if a visitor to a household in Roman times came during Saturnalia he might get the wrong impression as to who was the slave and who was the master. How many Christians today treat Jesus as if he was just a servant? When we pray it is all too easy to pray for our will to be done and just add Jesus’ name at the as a cipher. Compared with the vastness of eternity the thirty odd years that Jesus spent on this earth as “The Suffering Servant” was only a short blink. We get a glimpse of the ‘normal’ Jesus in Exodus chapter 24 verses 9-10:- “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement of sapphire, clear as the sky itself.” As Scripture says elsewhere that no one has seen the Father then this must be the Son. Then again during Jesus’ time on earth in his ministry there was the Transfiguration mentioned in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew chapter 17, etc.) where His glory shone through. Finally, in Revelation Chapter 21, verse 23, The city does not need a sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of the God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” It is all too easy for us to misunderstand the verse in Hebrews Chapter 13 that says “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever” thinking that it refers to Jesus in the context only of his earthly ministry. Equally, when we read or hear that familiar passage from Philippians chapter 2 that starts “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the nature of a servant, . .” we find it difficult if not well nigh impossible to comprehend exactly how many orders of magnitude he humbled himself to die for our sins on the cross. It is mind-blowing.
We can all feel uncomfortable when we read of Jesus when he washed the disciples’ feet, because we find it difficult to humble ourselves to do likewise. It is convenient for us to ignore how far he humbled himself. Maybe some of those who say they do not celebrate Christmas have the same difficulty that many Jews of Jesus’ time on earth who could understand the concept of the “Suffering Servant,” and that is the real reason they feel it is inappropriate to celebrate the Lord’s birth at a time of year when the masters served the servants?
True that December 25th was probably not the actual date of Jesus’ birth, with many who reckon that it took place at or near the Feast of Tabernacles in the autumn. Yet there is a connection with Saturnalia after all.
David Rose, 2013.

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About davidgrose

I am a Bible believing Christian, brought up in the Brethren Movement, and now find myself associating with charismatics even though I do not always agree with them. I am in full-time employment. I have interests in history and photography amongst others.
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