Examination of Christmas
-by Tony Warren
Should Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25th? The exact date of Christ's birth is unknown, but Theologians almost unanimously agree that it was probably not the day Christians observe (december 25th). This is because Zacharias (father of John the Baptist, husband of Elizabeth) was of the division of Abijah, and considering John's birth in relationship to Christ's, most learned Theologians place the Saviour's birth somewhere between September and October. The first records of anyone noting December 25 as the birth date of Jesus is in a Roman calendar dated 336 A.D. By this time Christianity was beginning to grow steadily, and by the end of the century it had become the official religion of the Roman Empire.
The use of December 25th by Christians is generally thought to have been influenced by the pagan festivals, which were also held at that time. It probably was an effort to contend or combat these festivals with Christian customs. For example, the Romans held an end of the year festival to honor their harvest god Saturn at this time of year, and there was also the honoring of Mithras, which they believed to be the god of light. In these festivals the pagans prepared special foods, decorated their homes with plants, and gave gifts. It is generally thought that Christians thought to bring the gospel of Christ to the pagans by holding their celebration of His birth at this time, to emphasize the gift of Christ. If true, it was a noble but somewhat controversial decision.
Though Christian gift giving is believed to originate from the gifts of the Magi, the custom of giving gifts may well have also been influenced by the northern European tradition of giving presents as part of their end of year celebrations. It is not inconceivable that these customs made it more of an acceptable practice in the celebration of Christ's birth.
Sadly, the legend of Saint Nicholas and his alleged charity also found its way into some Christmas celebrations as many Catholics made him a symbol of the charitable giving of gifts. Nevertheless, it is self evident that the unrighteous practices on any given day, cannot abrogate the day itself, or make it unacceptable by Christians who use it properly in reverent memorial. Most arguments against observing Christmas are generally based on the origin of it, and leans heavily upon the abuse of the day both in history and today. It is my opinion that this argument is spurious at best, because origin or abuse of any particular thing is not the judge of whether it may be used or observed righteously. It would be difficult for any logically thinking person to argue this reasonably, else we would have to give up the word Sunday, because its origin is from the pagan worship of the sun. Likewise we would have to give up saturday, because its origin is from the pagan worship of Saturn. In order to remain consistent, these detractors of Christmas should never utter the days of the week again. However, we all understand that mere words, their origins, or objects (such as trees) are not inherently evil. And the same goes for a celebration of Christ's birth in December, January, or any day for that matter. Must we say that because pagans today have usurped Sunday as their day of the religious football in disrespect of God, hallowing it in their own eyes, that we should no longer observe the Sunday Sabbath? Most Christians would not suggest we stop worshipping on Sunday because of this. And likewise, there should be no condemnation of Christians who commemorate Christ's birth on December 25th, simply because pagans had/have their own festivals at that time.
We would all agree that unrighteous use of the day certainly occurred, and is even today occurring, but that did not (nor does it) effect the righteous who choose to commemorate Christ's birth with this special remembrance. Indeed, it became clear by the year 1100 A.D. that Christmas had become the biggest religious festival in Europe, and its popularity grew until the 1500's when a movement called the Reformation moved the Church back to a sound reliance upon the word of God over the words of men. It is in this backdrop that some Christians zealously began to question whether we should partake in a celebration which was not "specifically commanded," and one that included what they deemed as non christian customs reminiscent of these pagan festivals. Festivals including feasting and decorating. And in their zeal, they even managed to outlaw Christmas in England for a brief period of time in the 1600's. This banning of Christmas also spread to some sections of the American colonies. However, it was short lived, and this overzealous action of Puritans soon subsided.
In large part because of this history, some Christians even in our day (mostly in the Puritan and Jehovah Witness traditions) decided not to celebrate Christ's birth, despite the fact that today's Christian (as opposed to non-Christian) celebration of Christmas has nothing to do with those pagan festivals and feasts. In truth, the issue should not be one of the observance of Christmas, but of the spirit, attitudes and reasons for which it is done.
Once in a while the regulative principle is cited as a prohibition, however, Reformed Churches have through the centuries disagreed that Christmas actually violates this, and have differed widely on their application of the regulative principle in this matter.
There are other Christians who decline to celebrate Christmas because it has become commercialized (which is a much more valid reason than tradition) where it has almost lost its reverential meaning, as carnal Christians fall from the faith. But again, can improper use of the day make a proper use evil? My understanding of God's law is that it cannot! Just as false Churches cannot make a true Church evil, neither can observance in unrighteousness, make observance in righteousness a bad thing.
Consequently, most Christians continue to observe Christmas on December 25. They understand that it is of little import what actual day is used, for truly it is the thought "behind the observance" that is good or evil. I feel that it should be self evident that no day can be a bad day to celebrate the birth of the Saviour. If Christians with a right heart can set aside this time in the spirit of giving and decorate their homes with commemorative ornaments to bring notice to the birth of Christ, or set up a Christmas tree topped with a Star to the glory of the Lord their God, then I can find no reason in scripture to condemn it.
Often it is the Christmas tree itself that has become the most controversial part of Christmas. And many misguided Christians point to it as pagan ritual, and offer up the book of Jeremiah as proof that a Christmas trees is spoken of in evil terms. But is this an accurate accounting of the text?
Should Christians celebrate Christmas? The bottom line is that a good or evil celebration of Christmas with a traditional tree comes down to what is in the heart, and not what object is in the house. But whatsoever is not of faith, is sin (Romans 14:23), so if we feel we cannot glorify God with a christmas tree in our house, then by all means we should not have one. But if we can look upon that tree merely as a token or beacon signifying to all, the gift of God in its beauty, and our joy in the birth of the Saviour, then by all means we may freely display it. Under no circumstances should we to speak evil of another man's good. Unfortunately, this is what many Christians choose to do. Even though Christians of all people, should understand that good and evil come from men and not from symbols or in objects they possess. Just as the Lord gave us the example of things sacrificed to idols being eaten, and yet not inherently evil (1st Corinthians 8). There is no inherent evil in the meats, but "in the man" and the reason he eats. Yes, we are not to cause our brother to stumble, but likewise we are not to think someone observing a Holy day is evil. Consider what the scriptures say, what they mean, and then explain how anyone can sin by esteeming this day unto the Lord.
If one "insists" that we can't celebrate on any special days unto the Lord because it's not commanded, then this passage becomes meaningless. Because it is saying that we CAN, and more than that, it is saying to "real" Christians not to judge God's children in their observance of days. Some Christians simply do not want to look at these passage carefully to understand what they are saying. But clearly if we don't want to look at a day as a holy day, that is fine. But we are not to judge others who do observe it, for they observe it unto the Lord.
Some feel they can serve God well and bring Glory to Him by having a Christmas tree, as a symbol signifying Christ's birth to all who would see it. And there can be no doubt that Christmas keeps Christ's birth prominent, even in the world. Yes, even the wrath of men praises God. And to the Christian it is in honor, and for the glory God. Every day is a celebration of Christ's birth, but this special day of observance of the gift of God to men, can be very noble. The fact is, if Christ be the root of your Christmas tree, then the tree is a symbol of that planting, and the decorations the tokens of the beauty and brightness Christ brought to the world, and the gifts a representation of our charity, which is the greatest gift God has bestowed upon us. So then what evil can this celebration be? Do we think that the magi who gave gifts, in honor of the King, would today be condemned? I would say, Probably! Just as the woman who brought perfume for the feet of Jesus was judged unrighteous and condemned for her actions. Because man does not look upon the heart. There is no evil in an action not condemned by the law. There is no question but a Christmas tree "can" be used to commemorate Christ in faith. That is not to say it always is, but it can be.
Nevertheless, whosoever cannot understand this principle, or who feels in his heart that this is improper, then they should not use a tree in celebration of the nativity of the Lord. But it is not inherently evil, it is in fact simply a piece of wood. So judge not another man's servant (Romans 14:1-6), because to his own God he stands or falls.
There is no Biblical warrant nor precept for remembrance of the day of Christ's birth, nor does there have to be. Indeed in my humble opinion it is noble that we should have a special celebration each year to honor God's gift of Christ's birth, to have special joy and celebration in its significance. I find it very odd that anyone could find inherent fault with this. The theory that we must have clear Biblical command or precedent before having religious commemorations or celebrations is ludicrous. Do we have to have special Biblical command or precedent in order to pray on the 2nd day of April or the 3rd day of May or the 4th day of June? Do we need Biblical command or precedent before we worship God on any day? This theory is totally self serving. God says very clearly that we are not to judge our fellow Christians in relationship to respect of a Holy day (Romans 14:6), so how much clearer can it get?
Indeed, to every faithful Christian, Christmas should be more than simply celebrating His birth of some 2000 years ago. Rather it should be a time of special remembrance and renewing, to keep our hearts and minds in Christ, in exhorting one another in continued prayerful expectation, as we celebrate the Blessed hope of His promised return.
May the Precious Lord who is Gracious above all, give us the wisdom to understand this very pertinent question.
Copyright 2000 Tony Warren
Created 12/25/00 / Last Modified 12/24/12
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