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He was the most important man in the history of his nation and, as such, the celebration of his birth was a very appropriate thing. Indeed, where would his people really even be without him? His love for them was legendary; he would give anything for their welfare. In their darkest hour he was their shining light, and everyone around the world quickly came to know his name.

Through the years, though, the celebration of his birth changed pretty radically. Others came to be lumped in with him, others of far lesser importance.

His name was George Washington.

In 1879, the United States made George Washington's Feb. 22 birthday a federal holiday. National celebrations of his birth, though, actually began even while he was still alive. During his life, and for many long years after, he was nearly universally recognized in his greatness, and his birthday was a time of gratitude to God for giving us such a great man to lead us into the freedom and founding of the United States.

On June 28, 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Under this new law, Washington's birthday would be celebrated on the third Monday of February, partially losing the value and identity of the importance of his birthday. Washington's birthday has not been celebrated on the actual day of his birth since the law took effect in 1971. And then since the 1980s, thanks to advertising campaigns for holiday sales, the term "Presidents Day" became popularized and largely accepted instead of Washington's Birthday. The idea behind the name was to create a holiday that did not recognize a specific president, but rather celebrated the office of the presidency (www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/facts/the-truth-about-presidents-day).

In other words, the most important man in the history of the greatest country on Earth lost his birthday.

But a great many years before Washington, before America even, a far more important figure was born. Unlike Washington, who was born into the relative comfort and prosperity of a home where his father was both a successful planter and a justice of the county court, Jesus was born into poverty and obscurity. True, he was descended directly from King David both on his mother Mary's side and on the side of his adoptive father, Joseph, but more than 500 years had passed since that family had been anywhere near a throne.

Washington was born and reared in Virginia, arguably one of the most important places in America in and around those days. Jesus was born in tiny Bethlehem, and reared in Nazareth, the very definition of "the wrong side of the tracks." Washington studied geometry and trigonometry in preparation for his first career as a surveyor; Jesus never had any training as such and thus shocked everyone when he went into the temple and taught. John 7:15 says, "And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?"

Washington led the American forces during the Revolutionary War. Jesus never had an army of any kind, and only two swords for his 12 men, only one of which was ever wielded, and then in a very ill-advised time and place. Washington became so famous and well-loved that he was unanimously elected as the first president of the United States, and to this day remains the only man ever unanimously elected to that office. Not only was Jesus never elected to anything, he was ignominiously put to death by the very people he came to save.

And yet, while Washington was only able to truly hold onto the celebration of his birth for around 150 years, the birth of Christ is still celebrated by billions the world over 2,000 years later. In fact, we do not just celebrate a day, we celebrate it as an entire season. There never was a "Washington season," but every year the Christmas season starts as late as the day after Thanksgiving for most, and as early as, oh, July-ish for some people (and you know who you are ).

I suppose what makes all of this all the more amazing is that we actually know the date of Washington's birth. We do not actually know the date that Christ was born and yet still think so much of him the world over that we choose to mark it on Dec. 25 each and every year, decorate for it a month or two in advance, sing songs about it for weeks beforehand, preach about it from pulpits across the world, hold plays and dramas re-creating it, give everyone gifts to celebrate it and write about it in wonderful newspapers like this one.

There has simply never been anyone at all quite like Jesus.

Merry Christmas!

Bo Wagner is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, North Carolina, a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books available on Amazon and at www.wordofhismouth.com. Email him at 2knowhim@cbc-web.org.

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Pastor Bo Wagner
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