INTRO: Good morning. I want to welcome everyone here today. It's great to see families and friends who are all wrapped up in each other and getting along. The spirit of giving and goodwill is always a welcome sight. I like to see the beautiful lights that we often see at this time of the year. They certainly put us in a mood to celebrate and that’s what we do. I enjoy the festivities at this time of the year. There is a secular side of Christmas. It's a national holiday, a civic holiday. It's a time of reunion with loved ones and friends that perhaps we haven't seen in a long time. Some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard is Christmas music and I will be enjoying that. I have some favorites; you may have some favorites too.
I do have a bit of a quibble with one thing though. The religion of Christ should not be thought of as being “a time of the Year thing”. But that's often the way it is thought of. We talk about the season, the Christmas season. Christ, Christianity is an “all the time thing”. Every day the Christian should be rejoicing that Jesus Christ came into the world and so today I'm rejoicing. I expect to rejoice again tomorrow, and I expect to rejoice in the heat of the summer as I did last summer. The question under consideration is; are Christians authorized to celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday?
It’s universal to call December 25th Christmas which is made up of two words, Christ and Mass. Mass is a religious rite. Thus from its name it is a religious event recognizing the coming of Christ into the world. However, Scriptures don’t give us the actual date of the event. Galatians 4:10-11 – “10. You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.” While Paul referring to Jewish celebrations which had passed away with the old law it would seem to indicate the danger of observing any special day not authorized by the Lord.
Christmas has changed over the years and is a cultural as well as religious celebration around the world. Christmas now is a mix of pre-Christian (i.e. pagan), Christian, and secular themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift giving, completing an Advent calendar or Advent wreath, Christmas music and caroling, lighting a Christingle, viewing a Nativity play, an exchange of Christmas cards, special church services, a special meal, pulling Christmas crackers and the display of various Christmas decorations, including Christmas trees, Christmas lights, nativity scenes, garlands, wreaths, mistletoe, and holly. In addition, several closely related and often interchangeable figures, known as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and Christkind, are associated with bringing gifts to children and have their own body of traditions and lore. Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity, the holiday has become a significant event and a key sales period for retailers and businesses. The economic impact of Christmas has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world. [Wilipedia]
I. Historical background of Christmas - Before the 5th century there was no general consensus as to the date of the birth of Jesus. It had been observed in at least six different months on various days in each month. This confusion led Roman church authorities in the year of 440 AD to set a definite date for celebrating the birth of our Lord. December 25th was selected because it fell on the old Roman feast day of the birth of Sol, the Sun god. It is said that their reasoning was because Malachi 4:2 – “But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves.” And other verses. However, it was purely due to competition to get people to the churches.
A. After all since Jesus is the light of the world. And if you have a celebration taking place culturally, and it’s in terms of other religions which celebrate to encourage the coming of light; then it would seem that if you accommodated those particular things together, you could make it easier for people to be converted to Christianity. You meld together with their physical and cultural celebrations.
1. When we look at the origin of Christmas as a celebration of Jesus’ birth, it doesn't have its origin in the Bible or in the teachings of the Apostles, or the practice of the first century church.
2. The history of Christmas didn’t begin with Christ. The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, has been celebrated in one form or another for millennia. Northern Europeans called it ‘Jul’, a term remembered in the English word Yule, which now means Christmas, in ancient Rome it was the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, or ‘the birthday of the unconquered Sun’. Through sacrifices and feasting, pagans celebrated the beginning of the Sun’s revival.
3. The celebration of Jesus’ birth was observed primarily by the Roman church. We can see that the celebration of Christmas did not have it’s origins with God, it had it’s origins with men and many have opposed it. This is illustrated in both British and American history.
B. British opposition - In the UK Christmas was banned and even today there are those who want to see it banned again, but as someone once said, ‘it’s political correctness gone mad’, some local councils even try to ban the use of the word Christmas. This is nothing new because back in the 17th century, this was actually true.
1. The English parliament under Oliver Cromwell, and the Massachusetts Puritans, both tried to ban the celebration of Christmas, in England because it was ‘popish’ and pagan, in America, because the 25th of December was viewed as an arbitrarily selected date (which it was), rather than the true anniversary of Christ’s birth.
2. Also because Christmas was celebrated with drinking, eating, dancing and having fun, things that did not go down well with 17th century Puritans generally.
C. American opposition - The first Christmas spent in America by the Mayflower Pilgrims was devoted to hard labor such as cutting down trees, in order to avoid any frivolity on the day called Christmas. They argued that nothing in the Scriptures mentioned having a good time. To Robert Brown and his associates, it was nothing more than a ‘Popish frivolity’ and the ‘dreadful work of Satan’ in their midst.
1. In 1659 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the colonial legislature made Christmas illegal. ‘Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas, shall pay for every offense five shillings.’ One judge loudly proclaimed that people who made mince pie or plum pudding over the holiday period would surely be ‘Cursed by God for all eternity.’
2. Because of its association with pagan festivals the Pilgrims outlawed the color green. Pilgrim preachers used their pulpits to denounce holly and ivy and Christmas trees as ‘seditious badges’ which were always to be looked upon as signs of the devil at work.
3. This stern prohibition proved to be extremely unpopular and caused widespread discontent so by 1681 Christmas could again be celebrated without dire consequences in Massachusetts. Yet the Pilgrim chill on the holiday persisted for another 175 years. Children in that area of New England were made to attend school on Christmas day.
4. That law lasted until 1856. Many people in other colonies disagreed; their holiday festivities began well before December 25th and lasted until January 6th. These were Virginians and Dutch Burghers; they believed there should be a mixture of religion and revelry.
II. 25th December is a Jewish celebration - Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights and it remembers the rededication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The feast was begun by Judas Maccabeus 164 B.C. to commemorate the cleansing and rededication of the temple after the defilement through pagan worship under Antiochus Epiphanes. Hanukkah is the Hebrew and Aramaic word for ‘dedication’. The feast is mentioned in John 10:22. Hanukkah lasts for eight days and starts on the 25th of Kislev, the month in the Jewish calendar that occurs at about the same time as December. Because the Jewish calendar is lunar, it uses the moon for its dates; Kislev can happen from late November to late December.
III. Today - I suppose if you came out of the denominational world and you had a practice of celebrating Christmas in some way before you came to the Lord's church then you've no doubt found that we take a rather unique, a different approach for the most part, at least as I speak about what the Lord’s Church conviction is. I’m sure you'd understand my tendency to do that.
A. Today most religious bodies that consider themselves to be followers of Jesus fervently celebrate and adhere to the aspect of celebration of the birthday of Jesus on December 25th. There are among Christian’s different opinions about this and different convictions. I don't in any way want to try to disrupt that. I'm fully convinced that the celebration of Christmas should not disrupt congregations or cause divisions among God's people.
B. We would certainly agree though that all of us are affected by the celebration of Christmas as a religious holiday in this country. It is so well entrenched in our culture and the elements are so much a part of our everyday life, that it's likely to stay, and its here with all of its influences.
C. Our religious neighbors as I mentioned celebrate it and they invite us to participate, they want us to be a part of that celebration. Often because of the secular aspect, the commercialism, they express a desire to put ‘Christ back into Christmas’.
D. I find that a very fascinating perspective that as Christians we're standing opposed to something that puts Christ into something. At least in regard to putting Christ into Christmas, because when we look at what the Bible teaches, the Bible doesn't say anything about Christ being in a religious celebration of Christmas. It's hard to put Jesus back into it from a Biblical perspective. I say all of that to get us to recognize the type of circumstance that we're in, in relationship to the people around us. I think Christians ought to be very careful about that.
E. I say that because I think if we really are serious about being a light to the world and preaching the gospel to others, and having an influence on others, while we can not compromise the truth, yet we should not go around beating people on the head with our personal convictions about religious holidays. I think sometimes that that's the approach that's taken and we shoo people away before we ever get them to where we can teach the Biblical principles by which they could understand what the Bible teaches about this subject and where our convictions lie.
IV. The Bible does emphasize the birth of Christ - In all, the New Testament devotes 100 verses to the coming of Christ and we cannot overlook the fact that the birth of Jesus is one of the most significant events in the history of the world. It’s one of the most profound thoughts in the Bible and we cannot in our human limitations begin to comprehend the significance of what took place.
A. We cannot imagine what it was like when Jesus left the Father, the Holy Spirit, the angels and all the grandeur and glory of heaven to come to this world and become a fully human infant with an infant mind. John wrote in John 1:14 - “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
B. So simple, yet so profound. How majestic must have been that heavenly scene when the Father, the Holy Spirit and all the angelic hosts of heaven said goodbye to the Word. What a scene it must have been to watch Him pass through the portals of glory to come into this world by way of a virgin.
C. God becoming human is one of the most amazing events in history. Angels announced His birth but only to some shepherds. The shepherds came to worship him, and later did some Magi. Yet, for the most part this event went unannounced, it occurred under the most humble circumstances, in a manger, to two poor young people.
D. How amazing that God would trust two young people with the care and raising of the Son of God. We today stand amazed and with Mary we cry out, ‘How can this be?’ Oh, the power and Divine love of God Almighty toward mankind.
E. Yet the Bible doesn't say much about Christmas. In fact the bible says nothing about Christmas as a celebration of the birthday of Jesus. We'll look at it from the perspective of the principles that are found in the Bible and while doing so look at the historical aspect of the event that Christmas is considered to represent.
V. How are Christians to observe this great and powerful event? I will start by suggesting we accept the Biblical story exactly as it’s told without any additions and subtractions. Since no date of birth is given then obviously the Lord didn’t intend for us to set aside a day to celebrate. To celebrate December 25th is without Scriptural evidence, we simply don’t know the date. There is no problem to talk about, read about, or even sing about His birth as long as we don’t teach it’s a command we must observe. It’s appropriate to talk about the Lord’s birth anytime. We can do this without implying we believe in the ‘immaculate conception of Mary,’ ‘the bodily assumption’ of Mary to heaven, or that ‘three wise men’ came to worship Him.
A. Certainly not knowing the date of someone’s birth doesn't mean you can't celebrate or commemorate their birth on a day in which they were not born. That doesn't make the aspect of Christmas illegitimate from that standpoint, but the Christmas story as it's presented in the religious world, sometimes can be rather misleading and provide for us a picture that's not really accurate from the standpoint of what the Bible teaches. That's what we ought to draw people to; what the Bible actually teaches about the birthday of Jesus. Matthew chapter 1 and Luke chapter 2 are records of biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth.
B. Many of the traditions that are associated with the Christmas holidays originated in paganism. I think that is important for us in terms of looking at the facts. To understand that point because it's possible for individuals to actually participate in traditional things, to do things that others have done, their parents the grandparents have done, without really knowing the origin of them. We realize that is not necessarily always a bad thing because traditions themselves are not inherently bad.
1. But if we go along without finding out what those traditions are related to, then it's possible for us to either misinterpret the way that we are doing the tradition or why we're doing it or it might very well lead us into honoring something that God did not intend us to honor.
2. We look at the traditions that are associated with the celebration of Christmas and we recognize that most if not all of them had their origin in the same way that the celebration of Christmas did and that is in the development of false religion.
3. We have many traditions that we follow culturally and secularly but understanding where they came from helps us to sort things out and recognize whether or not these things could possibly engage us in something that would not be what God would want us to do.
C. Lighting - The lights go back to the celebration of the winter solstice and the idea of the lighting up of the world. On the solstice the pagans would burn bonfires out in the fields in order to help the sun god to wake up and to give him strength so that the days would be getting longer and the sun would reverse its course in the sky.
D. Christmas trees – Some say the Christmas tree had its origin in Germany. English missionaries replaced the sacrifices to the Norse gods and Odin's sacred oak, with a fir tree and then decorated that tree making it a tribute to the birth of the Christ child.
1. A preacher in England related that a few years ago, a brother in the Lord and his family came for dinner on Boxing Day. He said; “we sat and chatted and enjoyed a lovely meal prepared by my wife. Everything was nice and went well and my wife and I thought it was an enjoyable evening.”
2. “However just as they were leaving the brother said to me, ‘it’s unscriptural to have that Christmas tree in your home’, to which I replied, ‘we don’t worship the tree.’ I found it interesting that they waited until they had finished eating before they mentioned the tree was offensive to them.”
3. Anyway the preacher said, “it was Jeremiah 10 that was used to tell us that we shouldn’t have Christmas trees in our homes, but a closer look at the passage shows that it has nothing to do with Christmas trees and everything to do with idol worship.” Jeremiah 10:6-10 – “6. Inasmuch as there is none like You, O Lord (You are great, and Your name is great in might), 7. who would not fear You, O King of the nations? For this is Your rightful due, for among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. Listen to the next verse. 8. But they are altogether dull-hearted and foolish; a wooden idol is a worthless doctrine. 9. Silver is beaten into plates; it is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the metalsmith; blue and purple are their clothing; they are all the work of skillful men. 10. But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth will tremble, and the nations will not be able to abide His indignation.” Now if you revere the Christmas tree or the ornaments on it, that is idol worship.
4. Idol worship was a clear violation of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:3-6, but there is no connection between the worship of idols and the use of Christmas trees. I can erect a Christmas tree without any thought that I am raising up some pagan symbol to honor some pagan god as it was originally done. To me it’s merely a decoration and custom, nothing more. It’s a holiday, a time of joy, giving of gifts, good cheer and reaching out to those less fortunate.
i. I doubt there are many people that decorate a tree and put it in their house thinking that they're doing it as a sacrifice to Odin. That's just not part of their thinking. Probably they're not decorating that tree as a tribute to the Christ child anymore either.
ii. For example, we don’t look at the days of the week as the pagans did. To pagans Sunday referred to the pagan god Sun. Monday was ‘Moon day.’ Tuesday was Tiw’s day, the Anglo-Saxon god of war. Wednesday was ‘Wooden’s day’ the chief god of the Anglo-Saxons. Saturday refers to Saturn, the god of Agriculture.
iii. When we say these words today it never crosses our minds that we are saying the names of certain pagan gods. These words no longer have any such meaning.
E. Almost any teaching in the Bible people can have some error associated to it. When we talk about the Bible doctrine of faith, we do not mean and we try not to leave the impression that we believe in faith only. If we speak on baptism we try not to leave the impression we believe in sprinkling. When we talk, read or sing about Christ’s birth, we try not to leave the impression it occurred on December 25th.
1. In Romans 14, Paul argues the general proposition that there will be different levels of knowledge among brethren and that, to a certain extent; these must be accommodated for the sake of Christian unity. For example, some, out of conviction, choose not to eat meats, others see nothing wrong with such a practice. Romans 14:5-6 – “5. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6. 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. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.”
2. Romans 14:10 – “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”
F. No man is to create a law in areas of convenience and then demand that all others submit. If an obvious act of sin isn’t the issue, then peace must prevail. Is it necessary for us to reject everything that has a pagan or false religion background because it has that background? There are some who take this position, and that's their reason why a Christian can have nothing to do with anything that has to do with Christmas.
1. Or even with the secular elements of Christmas, because of the background of those things, which started in Paganism. We just mentioned several things that historically are connected with pagan roots and false religion. When a person participates in those things are they necessarily giving honor to that which brought about its origin?
2. The person who takes that position will have a very difficult time with consistency. In the sense that - if that is true for one thing, then it must also be true for all of those things in our life that have those same roots. Even with the word holiday. You know we're supposed to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas anymore? The word holiday is derived from the term holy day. Using their logic every time you use that word you're giving honor to its origin so every time you say holiday you are saying Holy Day.
3. Birthdays - Think about the celebration of birthdays. In ancient Egypt, the birthdays of the Pharaohs were considered ‘holy’ days, with no work being done. When we give our spouses birthday presents or throw a party for our children on their birthday, does this mean that we have compromised our faith?
4. Valentine’s Day - February 14th is the date that most people make an extra effort to love and be loved, this usually consists in the giving of flowers, a card and possibly going out for a nice romantic dinner. When people do this are we seriously saying that they are involved with and submitting to the Roman Catholic named Saint Valentine? Of course not. It is a made up day anyway.
5. Remembering the dead - When our loved ones pass away and we go to the cemetery to visit their resting place, most people usually leave some flowers. Again, when people do this, are we seriously saying that they are practicing what the Hindu’s practice?
6. Church weddings - Everyone loves a good wedding, and the place for which people get married is more important to some than to others. People who can afford it would like nothing less than a big old wedding in a church building. Again, when people get married in any church building, are we seriously saying that they believe that marriage is a church sacrament; which is what some teach?
G. Common sense needs to rule, it’s a shame that common sense isn’t so common. We all know that what people practiced years ago may still be practiced today, but have a totally different meaning and that’s because over a period of time, practices change, and their meanings change, and every practice has a different meaning to different people.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting that we compromise the truth, but what I am saying is that we need to be careful not to make spiritual laws for others where none exist. Christians are commanded not to allow those things that are traditions of men to dictate their worship to God. I don't believe that the church should join in the religious celebration of Christmas. That's probably something you have observed if you worship with us or if you're a member here or maybe you've seen church assemblies in other places where it is something that is manifestly absent.
We might wonder then, can the individual Christian observe Christmas as a secular or cultural holiday? It's something I think that can be answered by different Christians in different ways. But one thing is certain I think. I believe we would all agree that the Christmas celebration has both religious and non-religious elements. People are simply decorating a tree because it is a Christmas tree and because it's that time of year. Just because they do something does not necessarily tie them back in their thinking or even in the thinking of others to the origin of that tradition.
We’re commanded to observe the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus on every first day of the week. We have been given a memorial to help us remember His suffering on the cross. At the same time, I am thankful for His birth and I rejoice that the Word became flesh. Without His taking on our sinful nature, the flesh, I would have no hope. I never want to forget this.
We haven’t been commanded to observe any specific day as the birthday of Jesus. No memorial has been left to remind us of His birth, but we have been given abundant information about His birth thus the Lord expects to know about it and the events that surrounded it.
We offer the invitation at this time. If you're subject to the Gospel call in any way let us know while we stand and sing the song selected.Print
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