Keeping Christ In Christmas
We are living during a time in history when the deeply held beliefs of Christians are being challenged by the secular anti-christian world around us. The convicting message of Christ and his teachings are increasingly being scorned in every area of our society and has even invaded the churches that profess to hold to the teachings of Christ.
Many of these churches no longer focus on, or even teach, the repentant nature of our faith but rather choose to focus on the goodwill and glad tidings portion of the historical record of his birth and other pleasantries of his life. Even though this non-confrontational style of preaching is heard in most churches today, we find an even more aggressive agenda of the secular world to purge any affect of the person of Jesus from our lives especially around Christmas.
In the past few years, we see an ever increasing effort of atheist, humanist, and secularist champion the cause of purging the person of Jesus from any public display. In turn we see an increase of Christians declaring that we must "Keep Christ In Christmas" using the courts and the laws of the land to uphold our rights to celebrate Christmas and argue that Christmas is about Christ and not a secular holiday. Devout Christians have become increasingly dedicated to ensuring that the traditions of Christmas, the nativity scenes, and all other public displays of the birth of Jesus be paramount and central to the Christmas celebrations. Many of these believers are engaged to various degrees in providing vocal, grass roots, political, and financial support to activities that challenge the efforts of those working towards having Christ removed from the public arena. They are confident in the just nature of their cause although many are disheartened and sometimes even disgusted with those who oppose them.
Some even hold that those working towards expunging Jesus from the public square are engaging in acts of blasphemy that deserve the wrath and punishment of God almighty. The discourse of many believers here in the United States has risen to the level that by removing any display of Christianity from public and government institutions is akin to an apocalyptic act since God's favor will be removed from our country and we will be severely judged for it.
So what is the Christian to do, many of us ask. What proper role should a believer have in this cultural war? Should we only pray, or should we become more vocal in making sure our voices and public expression of our faith are not censored by those who do not accept or recognize our Lord and Savior? Should we sit silently by as the unbeliever systematically destroys the one joyous celebration of the birth of the Son of God forcing us to substitute the manger scene with cute imagines of a jolly old man and elves along with a talking snowman?
As followers of Christ we actually do know what to do when searching for the answers to these sincere and valid questions. The answer is obvious in that we need to spend time in prayer and to turn to scripture and see what it has to say just as we would do with any other cultural issues of the day such as modesty, raising children, church order etc. Many times I seem to forget that I should do this first rather than waste time trying to only logically make sense of something, even if it only involves worldly issues. I must admit that if I humbly examine my own heart often times, I find that I do not believe scripture will have a clear enough answer to satisfy my carnal mind, so I purposefully look for direction elsewhere. Because of this, I end up relying on my own thoughts causing me to remain unsure of what the truth is.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments. I am afflicted very much: quicken me, O LORD, according unto thy word. Accept, I beseech thee, the freewill offerings of my mouth, O LORD, and teach me thy judgments. My soul is continually in my hand: yet do I not forget thy law. The wicked have laid a snare for me: yet I erred not from thy precepts. Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart. I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end. (Ps. 119:105-112)
For many years my wife and I wrestled with what we should do, but we never seemed to come to any concrete understanding of how we were to keep Christ in Christmas, so we tried our best to simplify it. At first we chose to stop the commercial aspect of it, which was convenient at the time since we had begun living much simpler and we had little funds that could be used for presents anyway. So in some ways backing off the material aspect of the holiday was some what easy since we didn’t have the means to participate anyway. We told our teenage children that Christmas had become to commercialized, so we were cutting back on much of the festivities, all the while they knew it was somewhat of a hollow reason for they knew we couldn't afford it, even if we did want to celebrate it. It was about this time that both Diana and I agreed that we needed concrete answers not just for ourselves but also our children and extended families.
It is easy to immediately turn to the gospels of Luke and Matthew for the story of the birth of Jesus. Even though these portions of scripture convey a powerful message, they were void of any direction of how Jesus would have us remember his birth. Although the activities and traditions surrounding Christmas seemed to reenact this event, they are quite hollow since they are so out of context when you really think about it. Matter of fact, the more I studied the more I could not find any answers to my questions, let alone why we should celebrate it at all, at least in the way that we do. I knew that Jesus did not come to glorify himself, but rather the Father who sent him.
I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. (John 5:30)
The more I studied the more I began to find that any commands or direction regarding remembering and keeping Christ central to Christmas was completely missing. There was no reference to remembering his birth at all. Matter of fact, it was the following scripture that finally caught my attention.
And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. (Luke 22:19)
It is this scripture that gives us the answer to how we keep Christ in Christmas. We do not do it at all, since we do not serve a child that was born in a manger, but we serve a victorious Lord who was very specific on that which we are to do as children of the Kingdom of God. There is no way to keep Christ in Christmas when we are not directed to do so, especially when we are specifically directed to remember him through the observance of communion.
To repeat, we are specifically directed to remember him through the observance of communion. To the believer this is all the guidance we need.
Just as we are directed to remember him through the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine, he would have directed us to celebrate his birth if we are meant to.
From here I began to prayerfully reflect on the very occasion when I first worshiped him just as the shepherds and wise men did, and I realized that this was their moment and not mine. My moment was when I met him at the cross, not the manger. I came and worshiped him at the cross, and it was there that my sins were eternally pardoned. It was the work of the cross, not the wonder of the manger, that restored me to a right relationship with my heavenly Father.
With my heart filled with joy over this new understanding, I began to research the origins of Christmas to better understand how it even came into practice and here is part of what I found.
The New Testament gives no date or year for Jesus’ birth. The earliest gospel – St. Mark’s, written about 65 CE – begins with the baptism of an adult Jesus. This suggests that the earliest Christians lacked interest in or knowledge of Jesus’ birth date. [Scott Buttrum, "Christmas - Where It All Started". Web. 27. Jan 2013 http://www.examiner.com/article/christmas-where-it-all-started]
Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen, glancing perhaps at the discreditable imperial Natalitia, asserts (in Lev. Hom. viii in Migne, P.G., XII, 495) that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday; Arnobius (VII, 32 in P.L., V, 1264) can still ridicule the "birthdays" of the gods. [Source: Cyril Charles Martindale, "Christmas." in The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. Web. 27 Jan. 2013 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm]
Christmas ... was not observed in the first centuries of the Christian church, since the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons rather than their birth…a feast was established in memory of this event [Christ’s birth] in the 4th century. In the 5th century the Western church ordered the feast to be celebrated on the day of the Mithraic rites of the birth of the sun and at the close of the Saturnalia, as no certain knowledge of the day of Christ’s birth existed. [Source: "Christmas." Encyclopedia Americana, 1956 edition]
The Reverend Increase Mather of Boston observed in 1687 that "the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens' Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones." Because of its known pagan origin, Christmas was banned by the Puritans and its observance was illegal in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681. However, Christmas was and still is celebrated by most Christians. [Source: Web. 27 Jan. 2013 "The History of Christmas" at www.simpletoremember.com
Therefore, as you can see, anyone trying to keep Christ in Christmas endeavors the impossible, since he never was, and never will be, part of this pagan, although religious, practice. Worshiping and celebrating the birth of the child known as Jesus minimizes and detracts from the Word that came to purchase our pardon and reside within us being expressed through the Body of Christ, the Church. Adding religious traditions to that which we are taught and commanded does not make them honorable to God. Actually it shows the arrogance of our heart when we choose to take our own man inspired traditions and import them into the faith.
We must always remember that our salvation was purchased with an unquantifiable price. It was paid for with the shed blood flowing from the tortured body of Jesus, who obediently went to the cross bearing our sins, who died, who conquered sin and death in the grave, who then arose victorious giving us new life and now sits at the right hand of the Father. If we truly understood the majesty of what our Lord did, we would never stoop to cheap, carnal practices of feel good religion just because they have the appearance of that which is good such as Christmas. We are called to celebrate the work of the cross, not the manger, for it is through the work of the cross that we are restored to a right relationship with the Father. The fact is that we do not have a definitive date of when he was humanly born, yet we can say each and every day "He Lives" within my heart!
Many times God's mercy is directed toward us by the very persons who reject him, since they are the best tool to uncover the hypocrisy of our actions before him. One of the greatest benefits that comes from those who wish to have Christ removed from Christmas and the public square is that he was only there because we put him there as an idol to be worshiped just as the pagans did. Yes, it is possible to worship a false Christ, one that looks and acts very much like the real one. The difference is that the real one sits at the right hand of the Father now, and is to be worshiped not through our own contrived human ways but by obeying him, whereas the false one deceives us into disobedience hardening our hearts with spiritual pride.
Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. (Mark 7:5-9)
In closing, I leave you another scripture.
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come ... Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind ... Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? (Col. 2:8, 16-18, 20-22)
I admit this is a difficult truth to handle. Giving up the pagan carnal festivities of Christmas will be just the beginning of a fresh new freedom from subtle sins in our lives, for his word does not return void. Once embraced, it is even more difficult to still show brotherly love to those of the faith who will harshly criticize you, when they are the ones who are blind, yet we are called to show love even to those amongst us who would choose to be carnally minded and remain blind to the truth. I close this with a final portion of scripture from 1 John praying that in all we do, we remain ambassadors of God's love as we share the wonders of his truths.
But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. (1 John 2:5-12)
So what does your heart say now, do you still want to keep Christ in Christmas?