It was the end of Michaelmas Term at Caxton College, and Staff and Students had just attended the Carol Service in the Chapel. The time was just after 8 p.m., and almost everyone in the College was at that moment in the Refectory, enjoying free mince pies and cocoa. The next morning would see the exodus of students for the Christmas vacation. It was almost impossible to be heard, due to the excitement generated in dining area, where students and staff jostled each other, shared jokes, and generally enjoyed an atmosphere of hilarity.
One student seemed a trifle more serious. He was Harry Rosenbaum, a Jewish Christian who’d been raised in Israel, and came to know the Lord through reading a copy of the New Testament in Hebrew, bestowed on him by an itinerant evangelist at Passover time a few years ago. He was now intent on sharing his new-found faith with others of his race, and Caxton was his choice of preparation for that commission, believing that a thorough grounding in Scripture was an absolute essential. Harry was searching for that round face, and white hair, known by everyone as belonging to the revered Dr Quinton. Having spotted him, he made his way through the throng and stood waiting until Doc finished talking to Dr Jones.
“Excuse me, sir,” began Harry, “may I ask you a question?”
“Certainly, my dear fellow. What’s on your mind? You do look rather serious.”
“It’s just that I happen to know that you believe Jesus was born at the end of September, so why do you celebrate Christmas now?”
“Now if you’re referring to the College as a whole, I suppose it’s because almost everyone else does, and tradition drags people along by the coat-tails.”
“But that isn’t a good enough answer for me. Suppose some Jews decided to celebrate Passover in August. What would happen?”
“I’m sure there would be something akin to a national earthquake. It simply couldn’t happen,” declared the Doctor, laughing.
“That’s right, sir. It’s unthinkable, isn’t it? So why do you take the festival of Christ’s birth from its true calendar position, and celebrate it three months later?” persisted Harry Rosenbaum.
Doc chuckled and set his beady eyes on the young man, so earnest for his faith. “I couldheartily concur with you, but for one factor.”
“What is that, sir?”
“Nowhere in the New Testament are we enjoined to celebrate Christ’s birth. It isn’t like your three Jewish festivals that are set down strictly by the Calendar. So we need not raise holy hands of horror at the anachronism!”
“Oh, I see. . . . I hadn’t thought of that. Thank you for that thought. I hope you didn’t think I was being rude, questioning you?”
“Not at all, my dear fellow. That’s what I’m here for.” And then he spoke more directly and quietly into the listening ear. “But I want you to know that my wife and I celebrated Hanukkah for many years until her death, by-passing Christmas, with all its gaudy commercialism.”
“Wow! . . . I find that very interesting. Being here, I’ve missed Hanukkah this year. It’s always a very festive occasion in Israel.”
“Yes, and let me say that I have always been a devotee of all the Old Testament festivals, believing that as Christians we have much to learn from their prophetic significance. Why, we even used to combine Passover with the remembrance of our Lord’s death, making Pesach a grand fulfilment of God’s great design. It seemed to be more fitting than the usual church celebrations of Easter.”
“I had no idea you felt like that. I would be much more at ease in your home than at Church. These would be new ideas for many Christians.” Harry’s face glowed with the warmth of a deeper fellowship.
“I am still trying to learn new things, even at my age” said Doc. “People here sometimes think I know all the answers, but they’re wrong. And when I meet my Master, I shall be setting out on a new course of study, because in the heavenly dimension, there will be whole vistas of new knowledge we know nothing about down here.”
“You have always given me the impression of wanting that day to come very soon, sir.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that, Rosenbaum. And you’re right, you know. There can be no greater joy than for a man to meet the Lord Jesus face to face. One may so glory in such an encounter that everything else, even the very best of things, just fades into oblivion.”
“You speak as one who has actually experienced His presence.”
“I’ll tell you a secret. I had a dream some years ago in which I had a momentary glimpse of the Lord. But it was enough, and I woke up trying to retain the vision. My wife’s sleep was disturbed, and she wondered what had happened. . . . I’ve never forgotten it. . . . Keep it to yourself. I don’t wish to have it splashed all over the College.”
“Thank you, sir. I promise. I’ve been privileged to hear your story. . . . Going back to the subject of Christmas, do you find any significance in it at all?”
“Why, yes, I do. You see, December 25th almost exactly marks the beginning of the nine months of pregnancy, so if Jesus was born at Michaelmas, as I believe, then He would have been conceived at Christmas. I like John’s words in his Gospel, ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ Christmas was the time when the Word became flesh, and Michaelmas was the beginning of His dwelling amongst men.”
“That helps me to know there’s something extra special about Christmas. . . . So is that the origin of the Quarter Days?”
“It is my belief, yes. Their origin goes back into the mists of time, and I think at some stage the true meaning of them became mixed up, so that we now think of them the wrong way round. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it happened during the days of Constantine the Great. He had a passion for combining political with religious. The other Quarter Days belong to the conception and birth of John the Baptist, and they have been put out of phase as well. That which is now called Lady Day in March was originally John’s birthday, and Midsummer Day was the time of his conception.”
“I wish I could spend Christmas with you, sir. I have a basket full of questions that need answering, and you always listen. You never seem to be in a hurry when we students come to you.”
“Well now, perhaps that’s because I am more or less retired, and I don’t have busy teaching schedules any longer. But thank you for your kind words. Where are you spending the vacation?”
“I’ll be back in Israel with my parents. They are a bit touchy about my beliefs, but thankfully very tolerant. . . . Where will you be spending Christmas, sir?”
“It is my happy lot to have been invited by the Principal and his wife to spend a week with them. God bless you.”
“And the Lord bless you, sir.”