In the church there are people who absolutely love this time of year - they go all out in decorating and celebrating the happiness they feel. Others, on the other hand, think it is unchristian to even acknowledge Christmas as a legitimate Christian feast and consequently avoid any of the traditional activities associated with this time of year. I would like to address some of these issues and help all of us have a Christian spirit about Christmas no matter what our personal beliefs are concerning this yearly celebration.
What We Already Know About Christmas
1. We know that it is not a celebration spoken of or required of us in the Bible.
Although the Bible describes the human birth of Jesus, it does not give instructions for us to remember or celebrate His birth with some kind of ceremony or feast. As a matter of fact, the only ceremony that underscores birth is baptism and it is our own birth as Christians that we live out through baptism.
3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.
- Romans 6:3-5
2. Many of the things associated with Christmas have pagan roots or worldly purposes.
We know that Christmas began to be observed somewhere in the 3rd or 4th century as an effort to Christianize the usual pagan winter festivals of the time. The Roman Solis Invicti holiday along with the Druid winter ritual were times of pagan revelry. The church at that time wanted to give people a chance to keep their festivals but remove the pagan ideas from which they evolved and replace them with meaning that was more in line with Christian thought. So the holiday was turned into a "Christ - celebration" - Christmas, ("mass" Latin for celebration).
The Druid Yule log and other trees used in pagan ceremonies were replaced by the evergreen tree which symbolized the changelessness of Christ. The practice of offering gifts to the gods in order to hurry them into sending the spring weather sooner was changed where people gave gifts of money, food, fuel to the poor - because this honored Christ.
There are other vestiges of pagan rites like wreaths and candles whose pagan roots are long forgotten having been replaced with Christian symbolism for so many centuries. Many centuries later we recognize that even though the celebration of Christmas originally used a pagan date and elements, these were converted to Christian usage, and with time Christmas has come to be a completely Christian idea with no reference to paganism.
What We Feel About Christmas
One thing that Christmas does is bring out emotion in people.
- For some, the sadness of being alone, sick or in turmoil increases at Christmas. It is a dangerous period for suicides because people have very strong feelings aroused at this time of year.
- Others do not recognize Christmas and reject the holiday altogether because they cannot get over its commercialization, its pagan roots and the idea that a Christian would be involved in something religious that the Bible does not specifically command.
- For most, however, it is a time of gladness, family and peace. A special time with special feelings not experienced at any other period of the year.
Regardless of what group we are in, one thing is for sure, Christmas affects us in one way or another.
What to do with Christmas
I have reminded you about some of the things we know concerning Christmas and some of the ways we feel about Christmas; now I want to share with you some of the things we ought to do with Christmas. I believe that what we do at Christmas will affect how we feel at Christmas. I recommend that we:
1. Honor Christ at Christmas
There is still a Lord's Day during the Christmas holidays. How ironic that a man-made celebration honoring Jesus would interfere with the divinely appointed day honoring Jesus! How disappointing it must be to God that disciples of Jesus would not come to church to honor Jesus according to the Bible because they find it too inconvenient to break away from their man-made celebration of Jesus at Christmas time.
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.
- Hebrews 10:25
Let us put into our minds now that we will not insult the Lord by refusing to gather with Him around the communion table in order to celebrate Him around a dinner table instead. The first order of business for the "Christ celebration" or "Christ-mass" is to honor Christ during this time by attending worship. Let's keep our priorities straight no matter what time of year it is.
2. Keep Christmas... "Christian"
Many people do not celebrate Christmas because it has pagan roots. I respect their decision and understand their feelings. I do celebrate it because I believe the essence of Christianity is the power of conversion.
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
- I Corinthians 6:9-11
The wonder of Christ is that He takes someone who is unholy and He makes him holy by virtue of His power, purity and love. Christianity has done this with the Christmas feast. It has taken something worldly, pagan, and unwholesome and through the power of truth and love and Christ has transformed it into a universal thing of beauty and delight representing the best ideals of the Christian spirit: peace and love!
Let us not allow the world to convert it, and us, back to paganism. Christmas becomes a pagan feast again when we participate along with the pagans in:
- revelry and drunkenness
- unbridled worldliness
- gluttony and fornication
The trouble with feasts has always been their danger of turning into excuses for sin. Let's be careful that we do not use Christmas as an occasion or an excuse to act in an un-Christian way.
3. Let us Restore the True Spirit of Christ at Christmas
When Christmas was begun it was done with the purpose of Christianizing a pagan society. All of the symbols and practices were changed or re-cast in order to teach and glorify Christ. A pagan practice that I mentioned before was the giving of gifts to the gods in order to get their favor. This was changed by the Christians of the era to the giving of gifts to the poor in order to reflect the spirit of Christ: who gave His life for many, who came to serve and not to be served and who said it is more blessed to give than to receive.
This tradition has been commercialized to the point where we almost exclusively use Christmas to give and receive presents between ourselves and our friends, and occasionally those who serve us in some way. As Christians, we should restore and return to the original purpose for Christmas: honor Christ and bless others in His name. In this way we as Christians demonstrate that at least we understand the true meaning of Christmas.
I said before that there is a relationship between how you feel and what you do at Christmas.
1. If you honor Christ with obedience, you will feel at peace with God and yourself not only at Christmas but every day of the year. Sin is always a burden and disobedience towards God whether it be missing church, refusing to be baptized, cheating on an exam, lying to your spouse - whatever… sin always causes anxiety, guilt, shame and discouragement. If you have dishonored Christ by disobeying and wish to be right with God, do it now so you can feel the peace and joy today, tomorrow, this Christmas and every Christmas until Jesus comes.
2. My final encouragement is for those who want to restore the true spirit of Christ to Christmas this year. Before we purchase all the gifts or stock up on food and goodies. Before we have the first eggnog or taste the great pies:
- Let us give the first portion of our Christmas celebration to the widow and the poor of our church and community.
- Let's offer God our Christmas celebration by giving the first gift to the poor and needy.
Just like it was done in the first place many centuries ago. If we do this, several things will happen:
- We will honor God with this feast.
- We will build up the body of Christ in this community.
- We will bless those who are less fortunate.
- We will begin a good work that others can build upon and continue after we are gone.
- We will recapture the feeling of love, joy and peace that Christmas is all about.