Christians and Christmas
Why I Love Christmas
8In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14"Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."
15When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, "Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us." 16So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.
21And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
- Luke 2:8-21
I read this entire passage because the birth of Jesus Christ is definitely a recorded, biblical event and so recognizing it is a legitimate and spiritual thing that we do. It's not a sort of kind of thing, maybe, was he born, is that some sort of obscure thing in the Bible that there was an actual birth? No it's not an obscure thing, I read the whole 21 verses or so to demonstrate that it is a long piece of Scripture that describes the events.
Negatives of Christmas
Some of the events surrounding his live, natural birth from Mary and from Joseph. Now there are negative things about the celebration of this event that makes a lot of Christians uncomfortable. There's several reasons that they're not comfortable with that.
1. December 25th is not the day that Jesus was actually born.
I'm hoping this isn't a shock to you. The Bible doesn't specify a date and by the evidence we have it was probably in the springtime that this took place. Shepherds were not tending flocks in December in that area during that time. They were doing that, probably in a warmer climate at night and a warmer climate later on in the year.
2. The popular feasts that were celebrated on December the 25th were usually connected with pagan deities.
Depending on the culture, all kinds of pagan gods celebrated and worshiped and underscored at this time of year. Various nations held December 25th or thereabouts as popular feasts dedicated to the god of the sun and other nature deities at this, at this time.
3. Today this holiday is surrounded by so much commercialism.
Even people who don't believe in God are amazed at the commercialism attached to Christmas. In America, Christmas accounts for more than one-third of all retail selling for the year. There are certain businesses, if they don't do well at Christmas, they go under. So for most people in society, Christmas means cash, not Christ and that makes many devoted Christians uncomfortable participating in all of this.
Perhaps we would feel a little easier if we understood a little bit more about the background and the history of this event.
December 25th was chosen, not by pagans but by the early church as the birthdate of Jesus for two reasons. Number one, they wanted to impress on the world, especially those who doubted the human nature of Christ that he was actually born. Actually born of a woman, a natural birth. They wanted to emphasize that and so they chose a date, a birthday if you wish in order to emphasize that idea about Jesus. This was to counter a growing heresy that was going about at that time that the Christ was only a Spirit and he wasn't really flesh. This is one of the early heresies in the church. Yeah Jesus, well yes of course he did all these things because he was really a Spirit. He only appeared, it was only an apparition. Just like an angel appears as a man. Yeah, Jesus he was only a Spirit appearing as a man. This heresy, this false doctrine was spreading in the church. And one of the things that the early church did to counter this, was to come up with a birthday. He's not a Spirit, just a Spirit. Jesus Christ was actually born of a woman, like all men and like all women of course, born naturally. So that's one reason the date was chosen.
Another reason, the early church wanted to help pagan nations accustom themselves to a Christian lifestyle by giving them a feast with a Christian significance in order to replace their old practices which occurred around the same season. Their religion and their culture was kind of all tied together and so the thought was, well if we come up with a feast that is linked to Christianity, then many of the pagans that are converted to Christianity will be able to participate in something that they are familiar with.
Remember one thing, at the very beginning Christmas was strictly a religious feast, created to help unbelievers identify with Christianity. There were no Christmas presents, there was no tree, there was none of that. That stuff came much, much, much later. At first, from a church perspective, Christmas was a religious observance and so the commercialization of this holiday came many centuries later. Now I don't want you to misunderstand what I'm saying. I believe and teach that Christians should not establish religious practices which cannot be supported by the Bible. We're the Bible people. We do Bible things in Bible ways and if the Bible doesn't give us authority or an example or a teaching to do something, to establish something, then we don't, we don't do it.
The Bible teaches us that we take the Lord's supper for example on the first day of the week and we use the emblems of the unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine. And we have an example of what to do, when to do it, how to do it, who does it.
We have it, so we do that. There's nothing in the Bible that tells us that we must somehow underscore the birth of Jesus in any particular way when we gather together as the church. There's nothing in the New Testament which directs us in any way to celebrate, to mark, to observe in any special way the birth of Jesus.
We have no instructions for that. As a matter of fact it is his death that we commemorate with Communion and it is his death and resurrection that we share, through baptism. These are the only ceremonies in the church that are authorized by the New Testament. But having said this, I do think however that we shouldn't condemn the feast or the holiday as a strictly pagan, commercial celebration. I've heard people say that, believers say it. Well that's just that, that's just the paganistic, commercial thing, nothing to do. Don't even say Merry, we shouldn't even say it when we're in the building. They're very strict about that thing. I believe that's a bit of an overstatement of the facts. I see Christmas much like I see Thanksgiving.
Much like I see July 4th, much like I see Veteran's Day for example. I mean, it's a public holiday with a special and important meaning, just like other holidays that we celebrate, that have important meanings.
For example I like Thanksgiving because it reminds us of the many blessings that we have. As a matter of fact, it's my favorite holiday, my favorite feast if you wish is Thanksgiving. But there's no command in the Bible that we should have such a holiday. But some of us feel that it's not okay to celebrate specifically what the Bible tells us to do in a general way.
In everything give thanks;
- I Thessalonians 5:18
We do always when we're praying, we give thanks, we come together, and as a nation, as a nation, once a year we give thanks. I like that holiday, it's in the spirit of Christ.
I like Veteran's Day because it allows us to honor those to whom honor is due because of their service to this country, even though there is nothing in the Bible that says that we have to do that. The Bible does say however that we should render honor to whom honor is due and in this country we believe that our veterans are owed honor for having offered their lives in order to guard and protect our freedom. And even though I myself am not a veteran, not in Canada, not here. I'm not a veteran, I'm just getting old, there's no holiday for that. But you understand what I mean. That's a valid, that's a valid holiday that we can celebrate if we wish with enthusiasm and so as a Christian.
Why I Love Christmas
I also like Christmas because it is able to do what no other feast is able to do and I want to share the things that Christmas is able to do that no other feast is able to do.
1. It's the only time of year when the whole world acknowledges in their own way, the reality of Christ's birth.
In Luke chapter two, we read the Bible account of the birth of Jesus and anyone who reads and believes the Bible can find out the facts of his birth and see the great incarnation mystery of God becoming man develop before their very eyes.
But most of the world does not read or have a Bible or even have access to someone who can teach him about the birth of Jesus Christ, who is the Savior, who is, we believe, the Son of God. For most people in the world, this news, this information, this teaching comes to them through the event of the Christmas holiday.
Imagine that, I mean is it a hundred-proof Bible? No, no a hundred-proof Bible is you open the Scriptures to them, to Luke chapter two and you read to them. They've got the story of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God made man. 100%, powerfully given to them. But for many people, the Christmas holiday, the Christmas feast, the Christmas idea is as close as they get to what we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of, is the Son of God.
Our job then, as Christians is not to complain about the pagan history or the commercialization of this holiday but rather take advantage of the one time when the whole world is paying attention to Jesus. And help them see that this baby Jesus eventually grew up and died for their sins and rose from the dead to prove that he was indeed the Son of God. More than anything else, we should make sure that the feast concentrates on Jesus and not Santa Claus.
I mean let's remember that Jesus, an old saying, is the reason for the season. And remind everyone else of this fact as well. It's a great opportunity to invite people to worship. What better time, what better time to say to a friend at work that we work with all year round, we have little discussions about religion every once in awhile, we keep it light. We try not to kind of step on their toes too much but what better time of year to screw up our courage and say hey, would you like to come to church with me this Christmas? I mean what better time to do that? What a wonderful opportunity it is to invite someone to come and really find out information about this, this Jesus. Or what a good time to say to someone, hey, would you like to, it's Christmas, would you like to have a Bible study? I could give you more information about the birth of Jesus that Disney doesn't tell us. Or the movies don't suggest but I could give you the whole story of the birth of Jesus, it's quite amazing. It's an opportunity, it's a little crack in the wall of disbelief that opens up for just a few moments and then closes back once again. Just as quickly.
Another reason why I like Christmas,
2. It is a time when people want to do good.
Do you ever notice that? It's a time of year when people just kind of, are motivated to do good, to do what's right. I mean we as Christians, we live in order to please God and try to do this by loving other people. This is the main objective of our lives but we live like this all year round. Non-Christians, they don't have this spiritual commitment. They don't have the Spirit of God within them, motivating them towards these things. They don't live for God, they live to please themselves or at least, they have human goals and ideals or perhaps false notions about God.
But Christmas for some reason, motivates non-believers to do good just for its own sake. I like a holiday that does that. That's why I like Thanksgiving. It motivates people to be grateful and you know what? Being grateful is the first step to knowing God. I love it when people say, when I stop and think about things, I sure have a lot. I've got a wonderful wife or husband. I've got these great kids and I've been so "lucky." What an opportunity to just bust right in there and tell them why they have all this stuff? That's why I like Thanksgiving.
I like Christmas because people have the attitude, well it is Christmas, come on. Let's be generous, I like that. That's a, that's a good thing. Christmas motivates non-believers to do good just for its own sake. More charity is done at Christmas time than any other time. Television and all formats of media have less violence and more stories about love and kindness and altruism.
People when they say let's watch a Christmas movie, what do you think they mean when they say let's watch a Christmas movie? I mean between you and me, let's be honest they, some of them are pretty cheesy right? I mean it's like, they're not going to be winning the Academy Award anytime soon but it doesn't matter right? You watch them, you can tell within the first four minutes, oh yeah okay she's going to end up with him. But you watch them anyways, why? Because you know, it's Christmas movie. It's going to be about good things, it's going to be about some grumpy, grouchy guy you know, who finally turns around and gets to be a happy, happy, you know that's.
We should always rejoice when good is done, at Christmas it is done indirectly in the name of the Lord. Why should we rob Jesus of His glory, even if it's offered without a complete understanding by those who don't know him intimately. So what? Why should we be the Scrooge and be upset that there is a feast that non-believers somehow handle our Jesus? While Paul the Apostle was in prison, he wrote the Philippian church a letter and in it, he discusses his notion and reaction to those who were preaching the Gospel but they were doing it with impure motives.
12Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. 15Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 18What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,
- Philippians 1:12-18
Well I repeat this, yeah they may not know all the details about Christ, they might not know all the book, chapter and verse about his life and ministry and his death and his resurrection. But the fact that the world is celebrating a historical event focused on Jesus, I rejoice in that. That's a good thing. That's a marvelous thing. Because there is some light connected with Christmas and its feast and there's some light that shines into the world because of it. For a short moment, the world feels the warmth of that light, why begrudge them the thing that we have the privilege of enjoying all year round? They only get a little bit of it, just a little warmth of it, just for a few days.
We have it all year round, why begrudge them that? Why be upset with that? I know that the Christmas celebration doesn't save souls. Only the preaching of the Gospel does that but this holiday does exalt the name of Jesus Christ and I am happy when my Lord is honored and all of us should be honored as well.
One final reason why I love Christmas:
3. It's a time when family ties are strengthened.
Our society puts great pressure on the family unit. How many single parents have to manage all the work of Christmas? How many families are being broken up during the Christmas season? How many people are alone at Christmas because of the loss of their partner through death? Through illness, Christmas is a great holiday because it promotes the family, the home and the simple joy of being together with friends and neighbors. As a matter of fact, next to the religious theme, the concept of a loving family is the strongest message of Christmas.
In our secular world, many are trying to make Christmas a kind of a generic family holiday and delete any reference to Christ. I had a service individual fix something at my house and I paid them and I said, "thank you and a Merry Christmas to you" and they said "and a happy holiday to you." They wouldn't break down for a minute even after I wished them a Merry Christmas. There is a war on Christmas but it isn't a war on Christmas. It's the same old war, it's a war on anything to do with Jesus that is good. Anything the world can do to crush that, anything the world can do to undermine the Lord Jesus Christ, it'll do it.
I know that many use family gatherings at Christmas time, unfortunately as an excuse to eat and to drink too much. But we as Christians, we don't have to do that. We can find in this period of time a reason to draw nearer to the ones that we love and perhaps draw them nearer to Jesus Christ.
Who not only was born for them but of course, who died for them. Perhaps we can bring them from just celebrating the birth of Christ with the exchange of gifts and a nice family meal and bring them to the point where they celebrate his death and burial and resurrection in the waters of baptism and receive from Christ himself, the gift of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit and eternal life.
And so, let's tell the truth about Christmas. I'm not afraid to acknowledge the truth of Christmas, it's not the 25th of December. We know that and yes it started in a pagan world, maybe that's not what I would have done but that's what they did. And we know absolutely that it's dangerously commercialized. But let's try to see the good too, shall we? Jesus is honored in the world and Jesus' goodness is reflected in men's attitudes in their homes and in society in general.
If you don't like Christmas as a worldwide feast, just think what this world would be like without it, or worse still, what if the entire world was celebrating the birth of Mohammed or Buddha instead? Well you want this? Would we prefer this? So let's try to see the cup as half filled rather than half empty in this matter of Christmas shall we? We as Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ is God and he was born as a man. The Bible teaches this. We as Christians, we love to do good and we love to do good in his name. We as Christians have the blessing of an earthly family as well as the additional privilege of being in God's family.
So if there's anyone who should be happy and who should rejoice at Christmas time, it's us. We have the best of both worlds. Finally, as Christians we have the joy of knowing that at this and every season of the year, we can offer the most precious gift available and that is the forgiveness of sins and the eternal life in heaven with the Lord.
Regardless of what you may receive this Christmas, you don't have the gift that matters unless you've confessed the name of Jesus and you have been buried with him in the waters of baptism and then added to his church because of this.
And so this Christmas, simply honor Christ and enjoy the influence that his birth, some 2000 years ago continues to have on this weary and dark world. And I say to you on behalf of Lisa and our family, Merry Christmas and God bless you.
If you need the prayers of the church at this time, if you need to respond to the invitation then I encourage you to come forward now as we stand and as Titus leads us in a song of encouragement, shall we do that now please?