And, lo, the Angel of the Lord Came Upon Them

There are definitely aspects of Christmas that I think are Godly, but there are definitely aspects that are pagan (this is how the devil gets you, mix a little good in with his evil). The good things about Christmas are things you can do anytime. I can give gifts to friends and family (even strangers) at any time. I can make plans to see my family any time. I can fellowship with my fellow believers any time. Just like I can talk about the crucifixion any time, I can talk about His birth any time. None of these activities is restricted to December.
9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.Luke 2:9-14 KJV

Introduction

The announcement of Jesus' birth to the shepherds in Luke 2 is one of the most beautiful things written in the Bible. I used to have the pleasure of reciting these verses almost every year during the church Christmas play each year when I was a child. These words have never gotten old; despite years of repetition, they never lose their impact on me. Each time, it's as though I'm hearing it for the first time and I'm overjoyed!

People don't really recite these verses during other parts of the year, instead, they tuck them away and save them for the month of December. They mix these verses with the man made traditions of Christmas and gleefully end the year... Something about this has always felt wrong to me.

Two years ago, I wrote a series called The 12 Days of Christmas, in which I talked about the pagan origins of several Christmas traditions. Many people are well aware of these pagan origins, but the question among the Church is whether or not these origins matter. The holiday is almost exclusively associated with Christianity now, so does that mean we are free to celebrate it?
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Questions & Answer

I've been asking about the celebrating of Christmas since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. There are people who are staunchly against Christmas, but for the most part, most churches are all for it. In mainline denominations such as Methodist and Baptist churches, the question of celebrating Christmas never comes up. At the church I grew up in, people thought I had lost my marbles for suggesting there was something off about the holiday. Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate the holiday because they fail to recognize the deity of Christ. Now that I've been attending a Seventh Day Adventist church, I see that they too have mixed feelings on the holiday. The pastors at my church did a Bible Study on the topic last Wednesday, and even though I was not able to attend, I was able to view it online.[3]

They brought up many points and suggestions, but unfortunately, I still have doubts and questions...

The Issue of Commandments

Many people who are against celebrating Christmas are quick to point out the issue that God did not command us to celebrate the holiday. If you look in the Bible, God is very specific when He tells the Israelites to keep a holy day. For example, when He commands them to celebrate Passover, He gives the date and the menu. God even provides instructions for how to make up the holy day if they are prevented from celebrating at the appointed time (Numbers 9). Moving in to the New Testament, we are told that Jesus dies on the 14th of Nisan as the Passover Lamb around the ninth hour (Matthew 27:45-50, Mark 15:34-37, and John 19:30-31).[1]

Contrarily, Jesus' birthday is a bit fuzzy. God sends the wise men and the shepherds to worship Jesus, but He doesn't tell us any details for us to commemorate the occasion annually. We are told that Mary became pregnant 6 months after John the Baptist's mother, Elizabeth (Luke 1:24-27). However, we aren't told when Elizabeth became pregnant! The shepherds are told of the birth at night, leading us to assume the birth happened at night though we aren't given an exact time. However, the wise men don't actually show up until years later. We learn of the wise men's search for Jesus in Matthew 2. In Matthew 2:16 it appears that the wisemen's information about Jesus led Herod to believe He could be two years old! So did the wise men arrive around the time of His birth or a few years later? Did they even show up around the date He was born?

God's treatment of the date in the case of Jesus' birth is a stark contrast to the dates of the feasts and Jesus' crucifixion. However, as the pastors point out, there are plenty of holidays that are celebrated that are not commanded by God. Jews celebrate Hanukkah and Purim, neither of which are ordained by God. Here in the United States we celebrate national days (like Vetran's Day or Independence Day) and Thanksgiving. So, does it matter that God didn't ordain Christmas as a celebration?

Both Hanukkah and Purim celebrate God's faithfulness to Israel. Hanukkah is about the rededication of the Temple and is known as the Feast of Dedication.[4] The Bible doesn't explicitly say Jesus celebrated Hanukkah, but it does tell us Jesus went to the Temple during that time. Purim celebrates the triumph of the Jews over Haman during their captivity, as told in the book of Esther. Jesus neither confirms nor denies Purim as a holiday to celebrate. Nonetheless, the Bible shows the Israelites celebrating Purim at the end of Esther without condemning it.

Civil holidays are a little different. They have no religious significance. Thanksgiving, Vetran's Day, and the like are all independent of religion. Celebrating such a day says nothing about your religious affiliation and does not require you to partake in pagan festivities. While I agree with the pastors that it is possible to over do it in any celebration, I don't think it's right to compare celebrating Thanksgiving, which has no religious significance or connotation, to celebrating Christmas.

Overall, I agree that God not commanding us to celebrate Christmas, it not a commandment to abstain from Christmas. Just as with Israelites celebrating Hanukkah and Purim, or us celebrating civil holidays, I think all things done to the glory of God are ok in His eyesight (Philippians 4:8).

The Issue of Paganism

The biggest issue with Christianity is the mixing of paganism and Christianity. When the pastors dove in to this topic, they concluded (based upon 1 Corinthians 8) that today, no one is going to be confused about whether you are celebrating Jesus or Sol Invictus so it isn't as much of an issue as people make it out to be. I disagree with this statement, however. There are two types of confusion that we promote when celebrating the birth of Jesus at Christmas.

The Lie of December 25

I know a large number of ex-Christians and one thing that is common with these ex-believers is that they felt like they were lied to. One reason they feel lied to is that they grew up, read a history book and learned of the pagan origins of Christmas. They discovered that December 25 is actually the birthdate of pagan gods like Tammuz or Sol Invictus and decided that Christianity is just as false as those religions. They count Jesus among the many pagan myths because His story is the same, despite the fact that it is not.

Whether they read a Bible or not, when the church is teaching that December 25 is Jesus' birthday, it becomes difficult to separate that fact from Biblical Truth. When I was in 7th grade, a friend of mine who is Jehovah's Witness, tried to explain that Christmas is not in the Bible. I was too stuck on the fact that Luke 1 and 2 clearly tell the birth of Jesus to process the fact that nowhere in that passage is December 25, Christmas trees, lights/candles, etc., mentioned. The same is true for these ex-believers. They have been programmed to associate December 25 with Christ's birth. Church tradition takes precedence over the Bible in their mind and Jesus' birthday is December 25, thus to them, Jesus is no different than the pagan myths.

Whether a church celebrates or doesn't celebrate, I think it is important that church admit it is not the actual date of Jesus' birth to avoid confusion. Of course, for the countless people who don't go to church, well, many of them are looking at Christians as though they're idiots because we proclaim to be against paganism and celebrate pagan birthdays since we don't know the birthdate of our Savior...

Santa

The second problem is Santa. Sure, the majority of the general population does in fact associate Christmas with Christianity, but the majority of the population also associates Christmas with Santa. I did a post on the similarities between the fairy tale of Santa and the reality of Jesus a few years ago. I was amazed at how badly the Santa myth tries to replace Christ. What's more, is that it works!

The pastors make mention of avoiding the worship of self during the holidays by giving to those in need, which I think is wonderful. What I'm not sure about is how many people will know that what you mean when you say Christmas. Growing up in a Christian family, the most repeated questions/statements of December were about Santa and gifts. People always said "I hope Santa is good to you" or "Was Santa good to you?" and asked "What did you put on your list to Santa?" Aside from the Christmas play at church, no one ever mentioned Jesus. The gifts weren't attributed to Jesus and we weren't encouraged thank Jesus for our blessings. All of that praise went to the fictional Santa...

I know Santa isn't real. You know Santa isn't real, but most of the children in the world do not know Santa isn't real. I can tell you for a fact that as happy as Luke 2 makes me, when I was 5 the reason I couldn't sleep on Christmas Eve is because I was excited about all the presents I would receive the next day. I wasn't thinking about Jesus in the least.

Idolatry

Photocredit: Unsplash.com/Aaron Burden
Most people I know who are aware of the pagan origins of Christmas, and the fact that it isn't even Jesus' birthday, argue that none of this matters if we keep Jesus as the focus.

Let's think about it. When the first Christians participated in these festivities, it was definitely because they were converts from a pagan religion and their participation in these traditions was a holdover from that lifestyle. We can be sure of this because outside of people coming to worship Jesus after hearing of His birth, there is no mentioning of celebrating Jesus' birthday. We see Jesus and the disciples keep the Passover, and Paul mentions returning to keep an unnamed feast, which is surely one of the feasts outlined in the Old Testament. However, the disciples and apostles never mention commemorating Jesus' birthday. In fact, celebrated birthdays are only mentioned 3 times in the Bible and all 3 times it is a pagan celebrating (Genesis 40:20, Matthew 14:6, Mark 6:21). So while we are neither forbidden nor commanded to celebrate birthdays, all Biblical evidence of birthdays is associated with paganism... Ecclesiastes 7:1 explains that the day of someone's death is more important than their birth. Jesus had to be born to save us from our sins but it was His decision to suffer and die for us that gives us salvation.

Do we think God was upset with the early Christians for participating in the customs but is suddenly ok with us doing so?

We can argue that Christmas is thought of as a Christian holiday all day, but the fact is, Christmas is associated with Santa, Rudolph, and Frosty the Snowman too. There is no other name given to the holiday in which Santa brings gifts to little kids, and even though January is the traditionally the coldest month of the year in Northern Hemisphere, no one talks about Frosty after Christmas. God didn't say to worship Him more than other gods, He said to worship Him only and not to have idols. Jesus should never be sharing the spotlight, especially on His birthday!

I've never been to a church that didn't decorate for Christmas... Despite Ecclesiastes 7:1, there aren't really any decorations for the resurrection, and the decorations placed in the church for Christmas are not Christ focused! A tree is placed in the sanctuary along with poinsettias, garland, and lights—all of which stem from pagan traditions. Poinsettias are native to Mexico and would not have been present in Israel during Jesus' birth. They became associated with Christmas in the 1800s.[2] As one of the pastors mentioned, the tree was associated with a fertility cult.[3] While I did see on the news that one church placed a nativity outside (and someone stole the baby Jesus, smh), no church I've ever been to has placed a nativity in the sanctuary. If we are truly focused on Jesus and worshipping God, why is our idea of decorating focused on the worldly aspects of Christmas? If you can't celebrate the holiday without trees and lights, what does that say about your focus?

Photocredit: eBay/ginnelly
In high school, I bought a nativity wreath like the one pictured to the left. I spent the month of December painting it (I wish I had mine handy so I could picture it instead—my people are more diverse in skin tone). Not two days after Christmas, my mom was fussing at me to put it away. Have you ever noticed that Christmas decorations go up way before Jesus' birth and then disappear right after. In my home town it's considered bad luck to enter the New Year with Christmas decorations still up.

Consider that. Why would a continued celebration of Jesus's birth be bad luck? Would it not be grand to start the new year praising the birth of our Savior? Furthermore, if we follow the Biblical birth of Jesus, the shepherds and wise men didn't show up until after the birth! Our celebrations should start on Jesus' birthday and continue for some time after, not the other way around. Instead, we revel in consumerism for a month before he is born and then rush to erase the supposed signs of His birth the very next day.

Consumerism

Speaking of Santa and gifts, let's talk about consumerism. How do you get through the holidays without getting swept into consumerism?

Yesterday, I got off work early and decided to go grocery shopping so I could have food for my parents when they arrive tonight. It's an 11 hour drive, so the least I can do is prepare dinner, right? Since I typically go grocery shopping on Sunday, my refrigerator starts looking bare around this time of the week. I have enough food to get me through until Sunday, but not enough to feed two more people. So off to the store I went. Not to buy a lavish spread, but to get the basic necessities of a feeding guests. It took me 45 minutes to drive one mile.

Everybody in the city was headed to the mall, which unfortunately is near the grocery store. People were driving like mad men trying to get to the mall to get the last of their Christmas shopping done. In all the commotion, I got frustrated and gave up on going to the grocery store. I remember this insanity well, however. Many of my friends are now stressed out about getting gifts and how much they've spent.
6But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. 7Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.2 Corinthians 9:6-7 KJV
I think Jesus is all about giving, but as the pastors pointed out, it shouldn't be about self. I feel as though it's impossible to give cheerfully during Christmas. There's way too much stress in shopping and expectations. When I was an avid gift giver I worried about two major cultural faux pas: 1) being the cheap giver and 2) receiving a gift from someone you didn't buy a gift for.

The Cheap Giver

For most of the time I gave gifts I was either unemployed and buying gifts for my friends with my parent's money or employed part time at a minimum wage job. Spending $10 on someone was a lot. Most of the gifts we exchanged were small lotions or perfumes from Bath & Body Works (because they're guaranteed to have some kind of buy one get one free type of sale right now) or fake jewelry from the likes of Claire's. Still, no one wants to spend $10 on a gift for someone and receive a gift they bought from The Dollar Tree. It's culturally unacceptable. Except, that's the complete opposite of God's stance on giving. We are to give without expectation. A genuine gift may be $100 and I may not receive anything in return.

We are called to give to those who are in need. If they are in need, it stands to reason that they probably can't give us anything back. I feel like this is a good time to direct you to an advertisement of a man who gave a little boy soup for his sick mother and later received a free operation from the boy, who grew up to be a doctor![5] This shouldn't be part of our expectations, but unfortunately this is very much a part of our culture and thus mangled into the holiday.
Photocredit: Pixabay/Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke

The Forgotten Giver

When it became tradition for my friends to buy each other gifts for Christmas, it wasn't just something my circle of friends started doing, but something the whole school was doing. This meant Sally Sue who sits next to you in English, and thinks you're friends because you say hi, might get you a gift even though you don't even know Sally Sue's real name... The worst thing about giving a gift to someone and not receiving one in return, particularly in school, is that it's a statement of mismatched placement in each other's lives. Since we bought gifts for those we were close to and considered good friends, this awkward situation means one person considers someone a close friend while the other person doesn't reciprocate that sentiment. That's embarrassing...

Regardless of how I viewed people I knew, the last thing I wanted was to leave someone feeling insulted and belittled. I am definitely guilty of lying with the excuse of "oops, I left your gift at home, I'll bring it tomorrow" to cover my tracks. Then, I'd have to go out that night and buy the person a gift. Now, I've lied and given a gift out of necessity. That's not what God wants from us. So why is it such a common theme in a holiday people claim is about Him?

The pastors talk about giving to those in need, which is a wonderful idea, but it clashes with the cultural celebration of Christmas. A coworker at my job this year gave me a present for the holidays—she's not even Christian, she's Muslim—she is not in need, nor had I thought to give her gift, so any gift I give her now is from the cultural instillation that I should return the gesture. This is a common theme during the holidays. Lots of people give and expect in return, meanwhile if we aren't participating in this consumerism, we're causing offense.

Last year, my mom went on and on about how she sent out Christmas cards (which she did begrudgingly), and this one person she sent a card to didn't send her one. As someone who doesn't send out cards at all, I was trying to explain to my mom that it was possible this person didn't send out cards to anyone, but my mom was still upset that she didn't receive a card. The expectation in our society is that you will do certain things during the holidays. If you don't people are upset. That's unhealthy.

The Bankrupt Giver

Fortunately, I never hit the milestone of spending money I don't have to buy gifts, but a common reason for depression during the holidays is tied to the expectations I mentioned above. People feel pressured to give "good" gifts. Parents feel pressured to give the children a "good" Christmas. It's embarrassing to tell people you're having financial trouble or have them figure it out, so people buy lavish gifts they can't afford to keep up appearances. We receive unexpected gifts then feel obligated to reciprocate the gift even if we can't afford to. Meanwhile the 1% is getting rich off of our attempt to please those around us.

Conclusions

As mentioned above, there are definitely aspects of Christmas that I think are Godly, but there are definitely aspects that are not (this is how the devil gets you, mix a little good in with his evil). The good things about Christmas are things you can do anytime. I can give gifts to friends and family (even strangers) at any time. I can make plans to see my family any time. I can fellowship with my fellow believers any time. Just like I can talk about the crucifixion any time, I can talk about His birth any time. None of these activities is restricted to December. Overall, I think it is our duty as Christians to insure that people are not confused. While that doesn't necessarily mean you can't enjoy the season, I do think people should spend more time addressing these issues so that those who are struggling or lost can actually see the light of Jesus.

References

  1. John Gill. "Acts 3:1 Commentary". via Bible Study Tools; visited December 23, 2017
  2. "Poinsettia". Wikipedia; visited December 23, 2017
  3. Joesph Salajan and Andrew Nugget. Deeper Part 10 Should (Could?) a Genuine Christian Celebrate Christmas?. Plantation SDA Church via YouTube. December 20, 2017
  4. "What is Hanukkah". Chabad.org; visited December 23, 2017
  5. Lee Moran. "VIDEO: Tear-jerking ad shows how a small act of kindness can have a big impact ". NY Daily News. September 17, 2013

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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