Podcast: Play in new window | Download
Intro: I want to take some time tonight to consider the celebration of Christmas. Should the Christian celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Jesus? What does the bible say about Christmas? Can Christians take different views on the celebration of the day?
Note: You may not agree with my conclusions on this subject. Christians do not always agree on matters of personal conviction. But I do believe that the subject of Christmas, and its celebration, needs our attention. Nearly everyone in this country is affected by Christmas and the elements of its observance. It is a national holiday, schools and businesses close for the day, and sometimes longer. Our religious neighbors host celebrations and invite us to participate. In the midst of increasing commercialization of these celebrations, many call on others to put Christ back in Christmas, expecting that us to join them in this endeavor.
The Truth About Jesus’ Birth
I. When was Jesus born? What is the date of Jesus’ birth? Was He born on Dec. 25th, year 0? The only authentic record of Jesus’ birth is found in the N.T., and it says nothing about the date of Jesus’ birth. There is not day, month, or year mentioned.
A. Matthew and Luke record the Biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus (Mt. 1:25 – 2:12; Lk. 2:1-20). Based on various lines of evidence, it is possible to place the birth of Jesus somewhere between 7 and 4 B.C. We do not know the month and day of His birth. The fact that the shepherds were in the fields with their sheep seems to suggest it happened in the spring or summer, and not the winter (sometime before November). Adam Clarke, the noted Methodist scholar of the early 19th century, stated correctly that the Bible writers do not give the birth date of Jesus. He continued as follows: “Learned and pious men have trifled egregiously on this subject, making that of importance which the Holy Spirit, by His silence has plainly informed them is of none” (Clarke’s Commentary, on Lk. 2:8).
B. When did the celebration of Dec. 25th begin? Historians tell us that it was nearly 3 centuries after the death of Jesus before a day was set for the special observance of His birth.
1. As the church began to make departures from the New Testament pattern in organization, doctrine, and worship, the observance of special days became common. By the 3rd and 4th centuries the church observed Epiphany, Easter and Christmas. The pagan Romans celebrated the Mithraic feast of the Sun god, the Roman Saturnalia and other pagan feasts toward the end of December. Since Jesus is the light of the world, it seemed fitting to accommodate these celebrations into Christianity. The emperor Constantine “pursued the deliberate policy of uniting the worship of the Sun with that of Christ” (Cullman, p. 29).
2. By about the middle of the fourth century the church at Rome began the observance of the birth of Jesus on December 25. To my knowledge, the first person to claim that Christ was actually born on that day was Chrysostom of Antioch (A.D. 386). Opposition to this practice continued for many years among some of the churches. The observance of Christmas began with the apostate church which was developing into what we now know as the Roman Catholic Church. Christmas had its origin in a pre Christian age among the pagans. It did not originate by the authority of God, Christ, or the Apostles and is not the way He chose to be remembered. We can safely conclude that the date of Dec. 25th as Jesus birthday was set by man, not God.
3. Most of the traditions that are associated with the celebration of Christmas also had their origin in pagan worship or false religion. Makes interesting reading.
a. Christmas tree had its origins in Germany. English missionary replaced the sacrifices to Norse God Odin’s sacred oak by a fir tree adorned in tribute to the Christ child in the 8th
b. Santa Claus is believed to have originated with a 4th century Bishop, Nicolas of Myra in Asia Minor. Believed to have brought gifts to children on his feast day, Dec. 6th. Was incorporated into the Christmas celebration. The jolly man in a red suit only dates back to 19th century in NYC.
c. Lights hark back to the celebration of the Winter Solstice by pagans – lit bonfires to help strengthen the sun to return.
4. The popular Christmas story varies from the Biblical account in many points.
a. Not a time of peace and quiet – all was calm, all was bright. Time of census, the town of Bethlehem would have been bustling and noisy.
b. We do not know how many Magi came to see Jesus. We do not know their names. They did not come to the manger, but to a house, 40 day to 2 years after Jesus was born.
c. No halo around Jesus’ head or Mary’s head – Catholic imagination
C. What does the word Christmas mean? The name is derived from the medieval Christes Masse or the mass of Christ. In time it was shortened to Christmas. Catholics teach: The sacrifice of the mass is identical to that of the cross, both having the same victim and the same high priest – Jesus Christ (Gibbons, Faith of Our Fathers, p 254). The only difference consists in the manner of the oblation. Christ was offered up on the cross in a bloody manner, and in the mass He is offered up in an unbloody manner. (ibid). The Bible, however teaches that Christ was offered up only ONCE for all (Heb. 9:26-28)
Should the Church Remember Christ at Christmas?
I. No NT Authority for the religious celebration of Jesus’ birth: The birth of Jesus was a phenomenal event that is given much attention in the NT. But God never authorized the church to celebrate the event or gave regulations governing a celebration. (compare with the feasts and festival of the OT). There is not record that the NT church celebrated Jesus’ birth. In the Scriptures God has given us all instruction about life and Godliness (2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). The New Testament gives warnings to Christians about the observance of days. Gal 4:9-11 – But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain. Christians are commanded to not allow the traditions of men to dictate their worship of God.
I do not believe that the church should join in the religious celebration of Christmas.
II. Can the Individual Christian observe Christmas as a national or cultural holiday? It is obvious that Christmas has both religious and non-religious elements. Even many of the elements that began in paganism or false religion, no longer carry the same meaning and are not associated with their religious origins. (Not many people view their decorated tree as a sacrifice to Odin. Most would never connect it with the birth of Jesus religiously.) The giving of gifts, Santa Claus, etc, are not connected with the birth of Jesus.
A. If I take the position that things that began through pagan or false religion must be rejected, I will find consistency to be very difficult. Holiday comes from Holy Day; The months of the year are named after pagan god (January – honor Janus, the Greek god who could see both the past and future at the same time.) The days of the week reflect back to pagan origin: Saturday – Saturn; Sunday – Sun god; Monday – moon god; Friday – Frig, the god of married love, etc) Do I honor these so-called deities when I use these words? In fact, we use the Gregorian calendar every day, and that calendar was developed and revised by Pope Gregory in 1580. Out goes the calendar.
1. Halloween is hallowed eve, catholic origin; Valentines Day began as a celebration “saint Valentine; Corpus Christi literally means “body of Christ” – a Catholic holiday and a Texas city; St. Louis; St. Augustine, etc. We must not dispute or quarrel over words – 1 Tim 6:4-5
2. There are things right in themselves that can become wrong if I attach religious significance to them. Washing hand; gathering to eat with others; observance of national holidays such as the fourth of July, Memorial Day, etc.
B. Applying 1 Cor. 8 & 10 – eating meats sacrificed to idols what was the apostolic position?
• 1 Cor 8:4-8 – 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. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6 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. 7 However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.
If one has knowledge, he can eat. But at the expense of his brothers conscience.
• 1 Cor 10:23-30 – All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; 26 for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” 27 If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. 28 But if anyone says to you, “This was offered to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” 29 “Conscience,” I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? 30 But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks?
If I find myself in the position of giving honor to a false god (religion) by eating, I should refrain. Otherwise I can eat. But it is possible to eat without honoring a false god.
In John 10 we find Jesus attending the Jewish feasts of light (Hanukkah) – a feast not mentioned in the OT, celebrating the revolt of the Maccabees.
C. Circumcision: Gal 6:15– For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. 1 Cor 7:17 – Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.
1. Paul circumcised Timothy without giving any religious significance to the act. He refused to circumcise Titus, because it would have implied religious significance. Here is my point: It is possible to observe a custom that began with religious significance in a non- religiously manner.
2. I conclude that a Christian can observe Christmas traditions (giving gifts, sending cards, decorating a tree, etc) without placing religious significance on these actions or honoring pagan or false religion.
• Rom 14:4-5 – Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind
Conclusion – There should and will not be any special services in the assemblies of this church in observance of Christmas. Whatever else we may wish to do or not do individually, let us keep it on an opinion basis and not judge one another.