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Celebrating the birth of Christ

Celebrating the birth of Christ
Celebrating the birth of Christ
The Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh
The Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh, Special Writer

Background text: Luke 2:8-19

Devotional text: Luke 2:1-7

Lately, I’ve had an old Christmas song running through my head. It goes like this, “Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. Please put a penny in the old man’s hat. If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do. If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you!”

This song, which through the years has been taken up by a number of singers (from the Kingston Trio in 1960, to others such as Harry Belafonte, The Manhattan Transfer and John Denver along with the Muppets), sung with their own slant on the music, is actually from an Old English Christmas nursery rhyme.

It was traditionally sung as a round, and some use the plural geese while others use the word goose. The rhyme has lasted through many generations. Its popularity began in Britain and traveled to the United States.

The music to the phrases was brought to us by Edith Nesbit Bland, who was both an author and poet, especially of children’s books. She was born in London in 1858 and died in 1924. We don’t have an exact date for the music she wrote for this rhyme except that it was composed in the late 19th century.

The words themselves refer to the English Christmas festival where a goose is served as the main meat dish. So, it’s easy to see the correlation between Christmas and looking forward to a sumptuous meal.

The next verse refers to Christmas as a season of giving to those less fortunate: “Please put a penny in the old man’s hat.” While a penny won’t get anyone too far today, back in the seventh century, it was introduced as a small silver coin that was also called a denarii. The penny became thinner and bore the likeness of the king when it was introduced in England during the eighth century.

Originally, the penny weighed 1.3 to 1.5 grams of pure silver. Today, in Britain, the penny still exists (called a pence in the plural), but, according to the Royal Mint, 8% of them are simply thrown away. Today, if you can find one, the British penny is copper coated with steel.

In this traditional rhyme, the ha’penny refers to a half penny, which was half the value of a full penny. At last, if a ha’penny was not available, one could also say, “God bless you,” asking the Lord to provide.

So, what does this tell us about this particular rhyme? Christmas was a season of family and joy and the celebration of Christ’s birth. We know this because it is a happy tune; it includes giving to those in need and to bless one another in the name of our God whose Son was born to us.

As Christmas comes ever closer, aside from shopping for one another and preparing a family meal, let’s take a look at this word “Christmas.” It is a shortened version of the “Mass on Christ’s day,” from the English. The term comes from “Cristes-messe” as it appeared in Old English, meaning “Christ’s Mass.”

This word for Christmas has been used as early as 1038. However, long before the term Christmas came into use, the day celebrating Christ’s birth was known as “The Feast of the Nativity,” recorded in 432 in Egypt. Yet another celebration of Christ’s birth dates from Rome in 336.

Early celebrations of Jesus’ birth include people greeting one another with “Christ is Born,” and the answer given as “Glorify Him!” In some cultures, these words continue through today. Sometimes bread is presented at the table and shredded for everyone to eat some. Others scatter straw on their tables reminiscent of Jesus’ birth in a stable.

Today, in America, many families celebrate Christmas outside and inside their homes, with Christmas trees and decorations of the season. They buy presents for one another as a symbol of presenting presents to the Christ child. They go to Christmas Eve candlelight services to bring in the birth of the Christ, Jesus.
On the day itself, people gather together, as family, as friends and as welcome guests, to eat, open gifts, light the Christ candle and read Christmas stories from secular to biblical. The spirit of the season is one of togetherness.

As we have learned from scripture found in Luke 2:8-19, the shepherds were together watching their sheep in the field at night when an angel appeared declaring the birth of the Messiah. The angel was joined by a heavenly host all singing glory to God. Together, the shepherds went down into Bethlehem to see the baby. Afterward, they spread the word throughout the community concerning the glorious birth of Jesus.

This was a time of togetherness, a time of community, surrounding the birth of Jesus. It was the beginning of what would become a worldwide event in the lives of many people. As today we find joy in celebrating our Savior together, it’s also a time of giving of one’s self to others and of forgiving one another.
In Luke 1:1-7, we read each Christmas Eve the story of Christ’s birth in the stable because there was no room at the inn. It is at once a private birth and then it becomes a celebration open to the guests of God’s choosing, the local shepherds. Later, we will read of the Magi who came from the east to honor the newborn king.
Each year, we welcome Christ into our lives as we sing the carols of the season: “Joy to the World,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Silent Night,” “Away in the Manger” and so many others honoring the Christ who would offer salvation and eternal life to the world.

Take joy in the season. Be good to others, and have a merry Christmas!