“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
Many years ago, when I was a young person at the Galilean Baptist Church in Dallas, TX, Dr. Bob Jones III came and spoke. I shall probably never forget his words of exhortation. “Sometimes,” he said, “It is good to draw an imaginary circle around yourself, shut all others out and then examine your heart.”
Self-examination is a good thing, and every person needs to follow the Biblical admonition to let every person become fully persuaded in their own heart concerning the faith. Since the Christmas season is upon us, perhaps it would be beneficial to examine the celebration of this day to determine whether or not it is consistent with the Christian faith.
There are those within Christendom who are convinced that Christmas is not consistent with the Christian faith, and want to do away with it. I cannot speak for everyone, but I would like to suggest that there are valid arguments for celebrating Christmas. I would contend that we need to keep Christmas for several reasons.
First, Christmas honors the birth of Christ. Whatever dishonors Christ should be stopped. Whatever displeases Him, and shames Him, should be abandoned.
There was a time in church history, during the Reformation period, when some of the Puritans believed that Christmas was too commercial, and had lost the holy meaning. Celebration was suspended in England, but was restored in 1644 when Charles II came to the throne.
While recognizing the abuses in celebrating Christmas, it can still be argued that the concept honors Christ. Indeed, the birth of Jesus is exalted in the Bible, as we have read in the gospel narrative.
For no other birth upon earth did the angels come to celebrate, and to tell shepherds where to look for the promised Messiah. For no other birth was there a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will towards men.” For no one else was a star placed in the sky to lead wise men to the young child who had been born.
The birth of Christ is highly honored in the Bible, and it was highly honored by the early Church. The precise date of Christ’s birth has always been of some dispute, and shall always remain a mystery. In the early church of the second century, until the fourth century, the sixth of January was regarded as the birthday of Jesus. That date is still honored today in many churches. Others contended for a date in December, while still others suggested that Jesus was born in February.
In the providence of the Lord, in the western church, December 25 was finally decided upon by the church in Rome as early as 360 AD. Church historian, Phillip Schaff explains why December was chosen (Church History, Volume III p. 396).
“The Christmas festival was probably the Christian transformation, or regeneration, of a series of kindred heathen festivals” including — the Sa-tur-na-lia, the celebration of Saturn. This deity was honored “in Rome in the month of December, in commemoration of the golden age of universal freedom and equality, and in honor of the unconquered sun.”
This was a great pagan holiday, especially for slaves and children. “The church fathers themselves confirm the symbolical reference of the feast of the birth of Christ, the Sun of righteousness, the Light of the world, to the birth-festival of the unconquered sun, which on the twenty-fifth of December, after the winter solstice, breaks the growing power of darkness, and begins anew his heroic career…
The celebration of the twenty-fifth of December was preceded by the Christmas Vigils, or Christmas Night, which was spent with the greater solemnity, because Christ was certainly born in the night (Luke 2:8). After Gregory the Great (c. 540 – March 12, 604), a bishop of Rome, the four Sundays before Christmas began to be devoted to the preparation for the coming of our Lord in the flesh and for his second coming to the final judgment. Hence they were called Advent Sundays.”
The charge might be made that Christmas is essentially a pagan holiday. However, such a charge misses the point and purpose of the early Church. The purpose of the early church was to redeem society, and its worldly traditions.
Therefore, Sunday became the Lord’s Day. Sinners become saints. Love replaced hate. Kindness replaced selfishness. Giving replaced getting. And the pagan festivals, they too were given new meaning.
When the emperor, Aurelian (AD 270 -275) built a great temple to the Unconquered Sun, which he intended to be the center of the empire’s religious life, Christians could find no better way of opposing this popular deity than by using his birthday, December 25, to celebrate the birth of Christ, the Son of Righteousness.
Christmas was not celebrated to receive pagan worshippers into Christian fellowship, but to challenge them.
The same spirit can still exist today. Those of us who love the Lord celebrate Him in His birth. The birth of any king calls for a time of rejoicing and celebration. When a Queen gives birth to a royal baby the news is spread far and wide. So it was when the young virgin gave birth to the King of all kings, heaven itself rejoiced. The angels sang, and the shepherds were told.
There is a second reason we should keep Christmas, and that is because the day, and all that is associated with it, symbolizes the message of Christ. We are not so old that we do not need, or enjoy object lessons. Therefore, we look at a green tree, and are reminded that Jesus is the Tree of Life.
Once driven from the Tree of Life, man can now enjoy it forever. John sees in the Revelation a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manners of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
If the apostle John can see visions of a green tree of life, why cannot the disciples of Jesus visualize it too?
Besides the tree, there are many decorations. Bells are placed, to remind us to ring out the good news,
“The Messiah has been born.
The Savior is come.”
And when the work of redemption has been accomplished and applied, the song is sung,
“Ring the bells of heaven!
There is joy today,
for a soul returning from the wild!
See the Father meets him out upon the way,
welcoming His weary wondering child.”
There are other songs. There are songs of joy and laughter. There are songs of worship and praise. Christmas has stirred the souls of poets to write such words as these,
“O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light,
The hopes and fears of all the years,
Are met in thee tonight.”
And must we give up the song,
“Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright,
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace.”
It is because men honored the birth of Christ that the whole wide world sings songs to the Savior today.
Our eyes see other object lessons. Angelic figures, to remind us of the time the midnight sky lit up with the presence of the celestial beings.
And then there are the gifts. They come in all shapes and sizes, and they too teach us important lessons.
The exchanging of gifts teach us that we do not always get what we want in life, but more seriously, they teach us to be thoughtful and generous.
The gifts remind us to give, and not to expect. And if we think seriously enough, they can remind us that salvation is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9).
When all things are considered properly, Christmas does symbolize the message of Jesus Christ. We can see that message in the decorations if we so desire.
There is a third reason why we should keep Christmas, and that is because of the wonderful opportunity it gives to be a witness to the world. The Church of Christ can be a good witness by keeping Christ in Christmas.
The world celebrates Christmas, not as a holy day, but as a holiday. The world forgets that the focal point is on the birth, the arrival, the appearance of the Savior of the world. The Church of Jesus Christ must not forget.
Traditions help some believers to keep the proper perspective. For years it was the custom in my sister’s home to have her father in law, Mr. Hughes, read Luke 2, and have a prayer on Christmas Eve before any gifts were exchanged.
Mr. Manny Hughes is in heaven now. He is celebrating Christmas with Christ. He is missed, but the memories are there. It is a little thing, but it helps us to remember. Jesus, not Santa is the focus of love and adoration.
Then again, looking for someone to help have a good holy day will keep the proper perspective.
If you know of a family in need, or children who could use an extra toy under the tree, I hope you will let the Pastor and Deacons know. Then we as a Church family can help.
Finally, keep Christ in Christmas by keeping it simple. Do not spend too much money. Do not be disappointed in your gifts. Keep your heart and motives pure.
When these things are done, we honor Christ. When all is said, let’s keep Christmas.