It is the author's hope that this argument regarding the observation of Christmas will provide Biblical guidance for Christians concerned about the issue of "holidays"...
True or false: According to the Bible, three wise kings who had travelled from distant lands in the east, led by a miraculous star, arrived at an inn's stable in Bethlehem on the night of Jesus' birth to worship Him.
Many have never questioned this scenario from Christmas tradition, and singing beloved carols like "We Three Kings of Orient Are" has helped popularize it, but the correct answer is...FALSE!
This writer is not a "demythologizer", i.e. one who wants to strip the supernatural out of the Bible. On the contrary - at Christ's entry to this world some two thousand years ago, the paranormal abounded! Heaven's intervention into earth's routine was explosive! In the first place, God Almighty was revealed in the flesh, incarnate as a Human Being. God humbled Himself to be born, lovingly gazed upon, and held as an Infant. On that wondrous night in the little town of Bethlehem, a great company of "extraterrestrial" beings that are normally invisible (angels) appeared to shepherds in the area and announced to them the amazing Birth of the Savior of the world with joyful, celestial song.
Moreover, wise men (magi) from the east, led indeed by a supernatural star, did eventually come to see the Christ Child. However, they visited the Child in a house, where they worshiped Him and gave gifts. The magi are never named, and there may have been two, five, or a dozen of them. The Bible gives no indication that they were kings, and they were all apparently from one nation. Finally, their visit was approximately two years after Jesus' birth. (See Matthew 2:11, 12)
Why burst December's red and green balloons? Why be a theologically exacting Scrooge? Isn't our real fight against the commercialization and secularization of one of Christendom's most holy days?
Those questions beg a more fundamental one: Should the nativity of Christ be observed in a religious way at all? Should *December 25th be "one of Christendom's most holy days"?
A true Christian recognizes the holy Bible, the books of the Old and New Testaments, as the very Word of God, and hence as his or her highest authority in all things. A good place to begin seeking a Biblical answer to this question about Christmas is from the words of Jesus Himself. The only time Jesus mentioned his own birth was when He stood before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor under whom He died:
Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." (John 18:37)
It was not his birth, but the death which He suffered under Pilate that Christ wanted His followers to observe. For this reason, He ordained that in remembrance of Him, believers partake of the cup and bread we call Communion, or the Lord's Supper.
Other than the first day of every week, the Lord's day or the New Covenant sabbath (Sunday), one will peruse the New Testament in vain seeking for the establishment of any Christian holy days at all - by Christ, or by the men He commissioned to speak with His full authority in that foundational age of the New Covenant Church, the apostles. Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, Christmas and the religious rituals and customs associated with them all exist because of traditions that originated outside of the Bible.
The problem the Church has found with such extra-Biblical religious traditions is that they can be like big government. They grow and grow and become more and more ornate and filled with man made rules. What was intended to adorn eventually obscures the profound simplicity of Divine realities. The Saint Nicholas legend (which has a basis in reality) was once promoted, no doubt, to illustrate the grace of generous giving. "God so loved the world, that He GAVE His only begotten Son...", John 3:16. "It is more blessed to GIVE than to receive", said Jesus (Acts 20:35). What does Santa do today? It seems to this writer that - with a jolly ho, ho, ho - he too often allows the greedy spirit of "GIMME, GIMME" to become respectable, and usurps the central place which Christ should have when we allegedly celebrate His *birthday!
Are we then to leave the ornaments in storage, let stockings be for wearing only, regard Rudolph as just another road kill victim, and sanctimoniously disdain an international and cross-denominational feast that stands for cheer and goodwill? Don't touch that Yule Log channel! Stay tuned...
This article was originally published in two parts (December 3rd and 10th, 1998) in a newspaper local to the Flemington, NJ area of Locktown Church, "The Hunterdon County Democrat". Part two follows...
Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it's dry and ready
With dreidel I will play!
These lines are from a children's song about a simple, traditional toy associated with Hanukkah, the festival of lights. With that Jewish holiday as a starting point, we will resume our discussion, "Should Christians celebrate Christmas"?
Hanukkah predates Christmas by centuries. It is a religious feast commemorating the dedication of a new altar and the eviction of idols from God's temple, under the leadership of the heroic Judas Maccabeus in 165 B.C. One can read the stirring account in the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees, chapter 4.
We also read, in canonical Scripture, that Jesus Christ honored this feast by His attendance: "...And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon's porch." (John 10:22, 23)
Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee evidently travelled to Jerusalem for a first century Hanukkah, even as He had attended the Passover from His youth onwards (Luke 2:41; 22:11-15, et. al.) This bears on our discussion because, unlike the Passover (the greatest of feasts under the Old Covenant), the feast of the dedication was not Divinely commanded. In this respect Hanukkah is like the historically younger holiday, Christmas. Both holidays are among those "traditions that originated outside of the Bible."
Let's put it another way. In the Old Testament, the temple, its form of worship, and content of worship were all ordained by God. A feast recognizing the rededication of the temple after its blasphemous desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes was not ordained by God. According to the New Testament, the Christ Who called His body a temple (John 2:19-21) was miraculously born by the power of God. However, no holy anniversary recognition of His birth was ordained by God.
Although we are not told expressly in the Bible just HOW Jesus celebrated the feast of the dedication, we can draw principles from His example and teachings in the Gospels to help answer the question, "Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?"
First we know that Christ Jesus, being both the Herald and Substance of the kingdom of God, delighted in spiritual pursuits. His meat and drink was to please His heavenly Father. His true disciples also know, as the apostle Paul put it, that "...the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). The bells and tinsel world, its decked halls, its vain attractions, and all its gaudy commercialism could not choke off Jesus' vigorous spiritual affections - because His heart and mind were centered on heavenly things. As He Himself said, "...where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:21)
On the other hand, Jesus preached against allowing man-made religious traditions to obscure the true worship of God (Mark 7:6-8). Whatever others may have been doing at the feast of the dedication, Jesus was walking in the very temple that had been dedicated! In John chapter 4, Jesus told the woman at the well that God seeks worshipers who will worship Him in Spirit and in truth. Dead formalism, encrusted with vain traditions, has no place under the New Covenant. Truly Christian worship is worship in the living Holy Spirit. And whatever is not known with certainty to be true (such as the common misconceptions about the visit of the magi, previously noted) is not made a part of Divine worship by way of inward conceptualizations, hymn lyrics, images, religious props, etc.
Finally, Jesus always was able to skillfully direct the attention of the wayward, the complacent, and even those who made themselves His adversaries toward what matters for eternity: one's relationship with God. The Yuletide season is one when people rarely seen at places of worship do join in with "the regular churchgoers". It is a time when those who joyfully know, love, and follow the Lamb of God, born long ago in Bethlehem, can winsomely direct the attention of others toward the gracious Savior, Whose birthday ostensibly is being remembered globally on December 25.
Should we Christians celebrate Christmas? As long as we do so according to these and other principles derived from Jesus' example and teachings as they are found in the holy Bible, YES: let's keep this feast!
* It should be noted that the date of Christ's birth is not known. Many statements in the Gospels involve dates and periods of time. For example, the crucifixion was just before Passover. Comparing these statements has led some to conclude that Jesus' birthday is probably in our September. Sorry, no "winter wonderland" Nativity! The climate in Bethlehem precludes snow even in winter months...
Pastor Keith Graham, December 1998
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