A Woman's Perspective On The Times We Live In


December 22, 2013

The Meaning and Observance of Christmas (Part 4): 1 John 2:16-17

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh 
and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—
is not from the Father but is from the world.  
And the world is passing away along with its desires, 
but whoever does the will of God abides forever.


     I chose this particular Scripture today, because this, my final post on the history and origins of Christmas, is the perfect time to turn our focus back to God.  During the last three Sundays, I have given you plenty to think about on the subject of Christmas -- Scripture to digest and discern; historical references to research on your own; and the words of early Church fathers and honored theologians to meditate upon.
     If you were inclined to make the effort to dig deeper on this topic, then you will be ready to read my words in a spirit of logic and reason.  If the thoughts that I have expressed were too difficult to contemplate (or you considered them too radical), then chances are you dismissed any research and will  approach this post personally and emotionally.  Please know that it was never my intention to offend you.  I simply hoped that we could agree on the importance of seeking God's desires.  So wherever you are on this delicate issue, let's finish our discussion in mutual respect and love.

     Last Sunday, in Part 3, I showed the overwhelming evidence that the pagans celebrated the birthdays of their gods for centuries before the birth of Christ.  We looked at how easy it was to incorporate those pagan festivals into a similar celebration honoring the birth of Jesus; how Emperor Constantine, in his attempt to separate Jewish influences in his new Christian faith, moved the Church away from the God-mandated Feasts of the Lord and morphed his worship of his Sun god's birthday with a "created" birthday celebration for the baby Jesus.  
     We read the words of early church Father Tertullian and St. Augustine; both condemning the celebration by Christians of pagan-like holidays.  The Encyclopaedia Britannica adds: "The [church] Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Epiphanius, contended that Christmas was a copy of a pagan celebration" (15th edition, Macropaedia, Vol. 4, p. 499, "Christianity").  For me, it's hard to ignore these observations, along with the opinion of many respected scholars that Jesus was born in the Fall, not on the Winter Solstice.  But today we will move on from the early Church and now consider how these historical events have come down through the centuries and become a part of the modern Church's Christmas traditions.
     Would it surprise you to know that for the first 230 years of our nation, that the celebration of Christmas was nearly non-existent?  The Puritan community in New England found no Scriptural justification for celebrating Christmas, and associated such celebrations with paganism and idolatry.  In fact, Wikipedia reports "Puritans heaped contempt on Christmas, calling it 'Fools Tide' and suppressing any attempts to celebrate it for several reasons. First, they held that no holy days except the Sabbath were sanctioned in Scripture; second, the most egregious behaviors were exercised in its celebration (Cotton Mather railed against these behaviors); and third, December 25th was not historical. The Puritans argued that the selection of the date was an early Christian hijacking of a Roman festival, and to celebrate a December Christmas was to defile oneself by paying homage to a pagan custom.  James Howard Barnett notes in The American Christmas (1984) that the Puritan view prevailed in New England for almost two centuries."
     James Hastings, Bible scholar, writer and editor of The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, confirms this finding:  "[At that time] Christmas was attacked as 'the old heathens' feasting day to 'Saturn their God', and carols were forbidden. Finally, 25 December was proclaimed a fast day [a time of abstaining from food and festivity to focus on religious devotion] in 1644. The new rule was enforced by the army, which spent much of its time pulling down the greenery that festive 'pagans' had attached to their doors."  It's hard to imagine that kind of feeling about Christmas today, isn't it?
     It wasn’t until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas. Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, America eagerly decorated trees, caroled, baked, and shopped for the Christmas season. Since that time, materialism, media, advertising, and mass marketing has made Christmas what it is today. The traditions that we enjoy at Christmas today were invented by blending together customs from many different countries into what is considered by many to be our national holiday.
     But with all this information on the origins and history of Christmas, where does that leave the modern Christian?  I can tell you that this is a very emotional subject among my fellow Believers!  One question I think we need to ask ourselves is this:  Are we worshipping God in practices that are rooted in mankind’s traditions and decrees, or are we worshipping according to Biblical truth?  One common justification I have heard over and over is But that's not what it means to me!  I’m focusing on the miracle of Christ’s birth as I celebrate with my family and friends.
     If we are being completely honest with ourselves, we should ask, "But which matters most – what it means to us or what it means to God?"  And how is this any different than the justification the Israelites gave for worshipping the Golden Calf?  Follow me on this .... In Exodus 32:1-6, (Please make the effort to look up this Scripture!) the Bible tells us that the Israelites grew worried when Moses did not return from Mount Sinai, and decided that they needed to have something (a graven image of a golden calf) to worship in the name of their God. They bowed down before it and thanked God for delivering them from Egypt. 
     So notice what they did:  1) They set something up and declared that it was from God.  2)  They worshipped a representation of a pagan deity, and had the arrogance to say “it shall be a feast to the LORD” (Exodus 32:5).  3)  They celebrated, claiming they were thinking about God as they brought gifts, drank and made merry.  Haven't we done the same thing with Christmas?
     Another argument I often hear is But God knows my heart!  I'm not worshipping other gods -- my heart is focused on Jesus!  But aren't we really making it about US, and what WE want, NOT what God has asked us to do, namely follow His Feasts and not the pagans' celebrations?  Aren't we justifying our sentiments about this holiday in order to make it acceptable before the Lord?  Shouldn't we be asking ourselves if we are offending Him? 
     I know how difficult this is to hear!  I fought with my own heart over the truth about this holiday.  I didn't want to believe that it's origin was not the birth of my Savior; I loved the imagery and the sentiments; the sights, sounds, and smells of what I thought was a sacred holiday.  I have struggled with how I am supposed to treat Christmas, now that I know the truth about its origins and that God desires His Feasts to be the center of my worship.
     There are those Christians who will take a different route than myself, and be able to overlook the pagan overtones of this holiday.  It has been suggested to me that although Christmas may have pagan roots, even the Apostle Paul tolerated pagan notions when he entered pagan temples to introduce them to God.  But I contend that it is one thing to take the Word of God into a pagan temple, and quite another to bring pagan symbols and celebrations into God's House.  And if we truly believe that God never changes, then our Creator's requirement to observe His annual festivals and Holy Days—the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles and the Sabbath -- should be just as relevant today.  
     Finally, there is no Scriptural evidence that Jesus commanded His followers to worship His birthday, nor do we find any mention to abide by such an observance by any of the disciples.  Don't you think if that was important to God, He would have commanded it in His Word?
     So that brings me to my personal quandary over Christmas.  As I commented to a faithful reader of this blog, Do I still tear up when I hear the solemn and emotional words to "O Holy Night"?  Of course!  My feelings about the celebration of Christmas have nothing to do with the majesty and glory of my Savior's birth.  That is a most revered occasion.  I just believe that He deserves so much more than to have His birth coupled with celebrations to pagan gods.  So do I still display my nativity scene?  Absolutely!  I cannot read the beautiful Scripture about His birth and not realize how much God loved me -- that He was willing to send that precious baby (His own Son!) into the world to suffer His wrath in my place!  I just do not assign that Holy birth to the specific date of December 25th.  And that monumental sacrifice has nothing to do with mistletoe, Christmas trees, Santa Claus or decking the halls with boughs of holly.
     I want to make it clear that PLW and I do not compel family or friends to stop their celebrations.   In fact, I have no problem continuing to meet with family and enjoying the gathering together and the giving of gifts.  I just no longer worship that day as holy.  But I recognize that not everyone is ready or willing to contemplate the historical significance of this most American of holiday festivities.  For now, and for myself, I am listening to the Spirit and trying to understand how God wants me to honor Him through His feasts.   For me, I think that will involve discerning how these holy days represent the First Coming of my Lord, and how they are a rehearsal for His Second Coming.  I do not desire to become legalistic or practice them as a believing Jew.  I have faith that God will direct my path.  This is all part of my ongoing journey, and it is an exciting one!
     So I will leave you with this thought ... we must pray and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what God wants us to do.  It’s not enough to have our own feelings and emotions over holidays that we ascribe spiritual meaning to.  It should be of utmost importance to us to know that we are being obedient to His desires, not our own.  In the end, it is a personal decision.  Pray for God's counsel, not man's.  My prayer for you is that you will believe God and His Word; you will seek His face and follow His commands.  God Bless You!
     

4 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for your series on Christmas. It was excellent! I loved that you said it was not about us but about Jesus Christ. The articles were encouraging to me as a Christian and will help me going forward to educate and pray for the rest of my family to move away from celebrating a pagan holiday.

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    1. Thank you for the encouragement! When I started the series, I honestly worried about how to present what was being revealed to me in a logical and non-confrontational manner. But through the Holy Spirit, God sent me the words and it just flowed smoothly and seamlessly. I actually sat in a church service on Sunday that sadly, left me feeling cold, and as if the Spirit was gone. It came home loud and clear that the Church is not representing God's desires when it comes to "Christmas". But I also feel that the Spirit is speaking to those who will hear. I have no doubt that He will direct all of our paths in the way to go.

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    2. Your thoughts on the Christmas season are valued ! This year has been difficult to the point of not even having the energy to respond to articles such as yours - but I must ! It has occurred to me that if the rapture is including all of the luke-warm " church people ", then from what I see that would be a good thing for then the Gospel message can then be spread and not diluted by church doctrine as I am witnessing. I know that will not be the case and realize the Rapture only involves those with a sincerity of strong belief for I Cor. 15 1 - 4 and so now it becomes a new scenario - to wit, when the Rapture occurs, the next week people will still be going to church to hear their favorite 10 min. " sermons ".
      Not to sound too sour, sometimes the world's system becomes a bit much, but then we " search the scriptures " and find that hope that you speak of. RB

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    3. Yes, stay focused on the hope, and I urge you to read my message on Christmas Day. I think you will find that when we look outside ourselves (and our country), our redemption is nigh. Jesus is close, my friend!

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