One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. (Romans 14:5-6 NKJV)
It is now common knowledge, among Christians as well as non-Christians, that the conception and celebration of December 25th as the day of Jesus’ birth does not find its origin in the Bible. Some Christians, tracing some of the traditions back to other ancient religious sources, will have nothing to do with this day and urge others to follow their lead.
Certainly, nobody is compelled to observe any of the traditional Christian holidays. If your conscience forbids it, perhaps this article will give you an understanding from an alternate point of view.
The commercialization of this day has become a burden for believer and non-believer, but that issue falls outside the scope of this article.
The Origin of Christmas
Many sources claim that Christmas day finds its origins in ancient pagan religions, whether the honouring of Tammuz by the ancient Egyptians, Baal worship of the non-Jewish Semitic peoples, or the celebrations of the Roman sun-god, Mithras. For the sake of argument, I will treat this pagan-Christmas theory as correct.
The Christian should realize that the Creator of time has made all days – none of them are the property of paganism. No doubt, there are traditions associated with these holidays that should be examined, if we wish our lives according to biblical principles. Our celebrations should be theologically based, emphasizing a Christ-centered approach so that they edify rather than distract from the gospel.
The trimmings and trappings of Christmas – trees, lights, stockings, Santa Claus, wreaths, mistletoe, holly berries, Yule logs and even the name of the holiday – are customs not derived from the Bible. They are traditional fixtures, many which are used to brighten and cheer our dark and cold winter (I’m writing from Canada). Though even in this I think care is needed, many of these items are not inherently good or evil – it is their use and intent that provides the context that determines whether they are right or wrong.
Even if it could be proven that candles were used by ancient pagan worshipers (and it’s probably true), the Jewish temple also employed candlesticks as a fixture in their temple. Almost everything good that God created has been used as a tool for destruction and dishonour, but that does not negate the fact that the Creator made the beauty of this world for his glory and for our benefit and use. Using any part of creation in the worship or for the honour of a false god is wrong.
Worshipping False gods?
Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6 NKJV)
The idolators of Paul’s day dedicated their food to false gods, which were dumb statues of metal and stone. They had no real power or personality, other than ascribed to them by their worshippers. This is why Paul calls them “so-called gods”. The Christian has the knowledge that there is only one true God, and that makes a difference.
Ancient Druids may have used candles as objects of light in their Luciferian worship, yet to the Christian, a candle may represent the Light of the world. Ancient pagan traditions may have interpreted the evergreen as a symbol of reincarnation, to the Christian, it may represent everlasting life, a promise from God to those who trust in Christ. (Besides, Spruce and Pine branches have far more decorative beauty than a Maple or Oak can offer this time of year).
The apostle states that “an idol is nothing in the world”. Should Christians live in fear of honouring false deities who we know do not exist, of living in bondage to these “so-called gods”? Don’t we grant them authority in our lives by acknowledging their presence and power over things that God created, but that may have come in contact with false worship at some point in history? (Should the people of God refuse to have children because heathen rituals almost always included fertility worship?)
There is nothing in sincere Christian worship of the biblical Jesus that connects the remembrance of his entrance into the world with the honouring of false gods. Any connotations that the date of December 25th may have had two or three thousand years ago is now long forgotten, meaningless in today’s modern world.
I’m certainly not endorsing everything that has been wrapped in the celebration of Christ’s birth. We should examine cultural norms and discern what honours Christ and what does not. The Christian can proceed in this with the realization that God owns everything around us, and that we have the mandate to claim and reclaim whatever good the enemy has usurped. The obsession many of us as Christians have, of distancing ourselves from anything that may have been tainted in a pagan context thousands of years ago, aids in continuing the power of these non-existent deities over our lives.
A Return to Legalism
Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:20-23
For much of my life I was in a tradition where all observances not specifically commanded by the law of Moses were understood as being of the devil – Christmas, Easter, Sunday, birthdays, etc. That something was missing was evident, however, for Christ and his work became smaller and smaller in our theology until he just about disappeared. Coincidence? I think not.
The children of Israel were given weekly, monthly and annual festivals and celebrations to remember God’s works of redemption, so that they would not forget the provisions and miraculous interventions of God on their behalf as a people and nation. These ordinances were written in the law and required to be observed very carefully, and those who failed to do so were punished.
Christians who relate to God as being under a system of law (fulfilling specific observances as a means of grace) will likely fail to find any meaning in traditional Christian observances, since they don’t fulfill any particular commandment. Therefore, these observances don’t satisfy the legalistic paradigm that they are living in. The emphasis of this form of religion is not usually about the importance of the salvific events of Christ’s life and death. It is concerned with ceremonial precepts performed (or avoided) to merit their salvation, rather than acceptance of salvation by grace, through faith in Christ’s completed work on the behalf of His people, His church.
Israel was forced to observe the commemorations of their redemption in a very specific way. Otherwise, they may have forgotten God and been assimilated into the nations around them (indeed, that is what happened to the northern ten tribes). It has been said, that as long as the Jews kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath kept the Jews.
Christians, however, have not been commanded in regard to weekly, monthly, or yearly observances. The apostle Paul is clear on this matter, in Romans 14, Colossians 2 and Galatians 4. God does not deal with his new covenant people through a system of laws, observances, and ceremonial requirements enforced by decrees, with punishment for those who fail to fulfill or observe them.
Christians have voluntarily observed certain days to commemorate the great events of the gospel story (Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection). Frankly, the origin of some of these observances is obscure, yet largely irrelevant. Forgotten in time, what we are left with is what we make of them. Many Christ-centered congregations use these yearly events to share the message of salvation in their community. They exalt their Saviour by remembering the great works of God in his intervention in a sinful world – when he broke into history with redemptive acts that have unavoidably altered the life of every person who is born in this world.
That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. (John 1:9 NKJV)
Jesus commanded his followers to remember his death, but even that is not spelled out as to when, how often, or exactly in what manner. However, it can’t be denied that certain events of Christ’s life are highlights of the gospel story. Matthew and Luke provide many details about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, and these accounts must have had a great influence upon the earliest Christians.
So, Why the Big Deal about Christ’s Birth Anyway?
I have heard it said (and have said it myself) that Jesus’ birth should not be a big deal to Christians, as there is no biblical command or example to celebrate it. Well, consider this, from the accounts of Matthew and Luke:
- His birth was a big deal to Zechariah, who was promised that his son (John the Baptist) would be the forerunner of the Messiah
- His birth was a big deal to Gabriel, who was sent from the presence of the God to bring good news Mary that she was to be the mother of the Son of God
- His birth was a big deal to Mary, who could not understand the blessing of God that was upon her, since she was a virgin
- His birth was a big deal to Elizabeth, who blessed Mary and the fruit of her womb, and recognized Mary as the mother of her Lord
- His birth was a big deal to Joseph, who was shocked to find out that he was going to parent the Son of God
- His birth was a big deal to the wise men, who saw his star and travelled hundreds of kilometres through desert to welcome him and bring him gifts
- His birth was a big deal to the angels, who announced his birth, singing “Glory to God in the highest, and peace, goodwill toward men”
- His birth was a big deal to the shepherds, who were peacefully tendering their sheep when suddenly they were blinded by glorious angels announcing his birth
- His birth was a big deal to Simeon, who was promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until Salvation had come as a light to the Gentiles and the glory of the people of Israel
- His birth was a big deal to Anna, the prophetess, who waited for decades in the temple to see the redemption of Jerusalem
Consider this as well:
- His birth was a big deal to Herod, the evil king, who Satan tried to use to kill Mary’s boy child before he could fulfil the mission he was ordained to accomplish
Is not Jesus’ birth portrayed in the Bible as a pivotal event in the history of the world? Has any other event ever had such a colossal impact on humanity? Other than his death and resurrection, is any other part in Christ’s life given that much attention and detailed account?
The angels and people of God rejoiced at his birth, when the Son of God became one of us. Matthew’s narrative of the birth of Christ tells us that the wise men rejoiced, and fell down and worshipped Him. Is not this the manner in which God-fearing Christians remember his first advent? Do we not rejoice in song and worship in prayer and thanksgiving, for the wonderful gift of God to us?
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:6 NKJV)
Those who through the blindness of their sin did not welcome the Son of God to earth were upset at his appearing; it troubled them greatly. This is the culture that we live in today – society wishes to remove all remembrance of this child from this winter celebration.
The Jewish Traditional Holiday, Hanukkah
Hanukkah is the Jewish holiday commemorating the re-dedication of the temple when it was freed by the Maccabees after being defiled by Seleucid invaders. It is known as the Festival of Lights, and occurs in the winter. Like Christmas, it is a time of joy, giving of gifts, and lighting of candles and lamps.
It was a traditional holiday, without any divine command to observe it, and yet John records that Jesus kept this observance (John 10:22). He took the opportunity to to make the connection when the Monorah was lit, that He was the Light of the world. It was a cultural picture that the Jews of His day could see and relate to.
If Jesus used the tradition of Hanukkah to point to himself as the Light of the world, is not Christmas at least as valid a holiday to remember Him as our Light? On the other hand, if we seek to eliminate Christ from Christmas, and Christmas from Christianity, does it for serve to exalt our Saviour, or does it subtly lend itself to the plan of the evil one, whose goal is to remove from the memory of people that great event, the beginning of our salvation, when the Word became flesh, entering a world of darkness, to shed His light and truth to all nations?
For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”
(Luke 2:30-32 NKJV)
I can honestly say this is the best article I’ve read on this topic. Well spoken, Leif! Thank you!!
Thanks for your comment; I’m glad you found it helpful. It’s an issue we have been wrestling with – we see the benefits and opportunities of using Christmas as a teaching moment in the family and participating in outreach at church, but are wary of some of the traditions that don’t seem to have anything to do with Christ. Christmas simply for the sake of Christmas doesn’t interest me, but the theology of the Word becoming flesh, and the purpose of that event (our redemption, salvation from sin, the overthrow of evil and death) are worth getting excited about at any time of year, and especially when others are focussing on that theme.
Thank you for sharing this, Leif! We didn’t observe Christmas (or Easter) for 10 years, and after that time we realized that the fruit of non-observance hadn’t been what we had originally hoped. I could really relate to this quote: “That something was missing was evident, however, for Christ and his work became smaller and smaller in our theology until he just about disappeared. Coincidence? I think not.” Yes, that was our experience, too.
So thankful for the freedom and joy and abundant life that is found in Jesus!
I appeciate that you took time to post your thoughts. Legalism seems to be natural for us – grace is difficult for us to quantify, because it is not part of our nature, but God’s. “Keeping the law” is so easy for the natural man to want to do, but learning the what the new covenant is, and our identity in Christ, can only be imparted by the Holy Spirit upon those who are reborn.
May “Christ be all, and in all.”