Devotional # 166. 12/7/15. Christmas, Part 2: Is it OK to celebrate Christmas on December 25th?
This week’s Reading: Luke 2:8-15.
Introduction: This week I was thinking about why we celebrate Christmas on December 25th . I’ve had conversations for years with friends who are of other religions that consider themselves Christians and are adamantly opposed to celebrating Christmas. Why is that? They say that nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to celebrate the birth of Jesus and therefore we shouldn’t. Beyond that they say that Jesus was not born on December 25th so we shouldn’t celebrate then. They are right on both points: I can’t find anywhere that we are commanded to celebrate Christmas or that Jesus was born on December 25th. I’ll save the origin of Christmas for another time but it does bring up a good point: is it a sin to celebrate Christmas, and is it a sin to do so on December 25th ?
Let’s look at Luke 2:8-15. I love how excited the angel is when he finally gets to first proclaim that the Messiah has been born! You see when God first created Adam and Eve He didn’t make them robots He allowed them to make a choice whether to obey Him or not. But He is all knowing and so He knew that they would disobey Him, it didn’t take Him by surprise. He had the plan of humanity’s redemption before even time began. The first prophecy I see about the Savior is in Genesis 3:15. That’s telling of a time 6,000 years ago! And 4,000 years prior to Jesus being born. Humanity had been aching for a savior, so I believe there was very good reason for the angels to celebrate God’s long-awaited plan! We see this when the angel says it is “good tidings of great joy.” It’s OK to be excited that Jesus was born and that God’s will was done, that His plan had finally come to fruition in His perfect timing. And it doesn’t seem that this celebration was for the angels alone considering they imply (“you will find”) that the shepherds should go find Jesus and tell others about Him also, which they do (Luke 2:12,17-18). It’s starting to seem like less of a sin and more of a freedom! (By the way we see the Genesis 3:5 prophecy fulfilled in Luke 22:53).
If we certainly have the freedom to celebrate Jesus, now the question is, is there a specific time that we should celebrate his birth? Well, it’s true Jesus was probably born somewhere in our September/October (the Hebrew month of Tishri) and on top of that the first Christmas celebration on December 25, 336AD was when Constantine wanted to unite his people and took the pagan celebration of Saturnalia and the Christians celebrating Christ’s birth and put them together (Source 1). (I did a series on Early Church History that’s available on sermonaudio, if you want to listen see below under “References: sermonaudio”). So on the one hand 1700 years ago it was not a good thing to assimilate Christ’s birth into a pagan holiday. I’ve seen a lot of research stating that Christian leaders would squash whatever pagan religion was out there by taking over their celebrations and then informing people about Jesus. Granted this doesn’t sound much like the way Jesus told us to tell others about Him and there have certainly been abuses of what was called the Christian church over time but on the other hand I don’t personally know anyone who celebrates Saturnalia at this time. So I don’t know that the ends justified the means but I also don’t think we should just throw the baby out with the bathwater either (no that wasn’t a lame “baby Jesus out with the bathwater” joke).
Our current culture tells us that we’re all supposed to “co-exist” – that we can have our beliefs but that we can’t tell people their beliefs are wrong. Interestingly that’s exactly what Jesus did and told us to do. In Mark 16:15-16 Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Jesus clearly gives humanity one path to salvation and that path is through Him and Him alone. Yes, throughout the Bible we see that people retained who they were: their personalities, their cultures, their families, but they also were told when they were wrong and heading towards disaster. In this case we know people are heading for hell but are we just supposed to shut our mouths, are we going to stop sending missionaries, are we going to stop taking opportunities like Christmas to talk to people about the love of Jesus? I really appreciate the candor of famous atheist Penn Jillette, of the magician duo, Penn & Teller when he said, “If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize [share Jesus]? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” (Source 2). That’s so true!
So if in a sense Christianity has triumphed over a pagan celebration and taken it for itself than that pagan celebration no longer applies. And I would say if your motives are pure and you are celebrating Jesus’ birth then it doesn’t matter if you do it in July. But I think the bigger problem nowadays is the commercialization of Christmas. That’s what we really struggle against.
What are some opportunities that we can take advantage of during this Christmas season to proclaim Jesus and let people know about why He came to earth and how much He loves them and wants to have a relationship with them? Is it about getting a few gifts that will break? Is it about putting up some lights that will burn out? Or is it about something so much more than Black Friday and Cyber Monday and eating too much and getting a few days off work? One example I came across this week was a list of topics for the various parties we’re bound to attend during the Christmas season:
- What’s the best thing that’s happened to you since last Christmas?
- What was your best Christmas ever? Why?
- What’s the most meaningful Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
- What was the most appreciated Christmas gift you’ve ever given?
- What was your favorite Christmas tradition as a child?
- What is your favorite Christmas tradition now?
- What do you do to try to keep Christ in Christmas?
- Why do you think people started celebrating the birth of Jesus?
- Do you think the birth of Jesus deserves such a nearly worldwide celebration?
- Why do you think Jesus came to earth?
- Do you think Christmas is over-rated?
- What’s your favourite Christmas song? Why that one? Would you put a carol in your top 10?
What are some other ideas? Is there a way for you to share Jesus with others? Do you really hold the key to bringing people out of the rush and let-down of Christmas and give them the eternal gift Jesus gave so many years ago? The answer is yes!
If you have ideas on how to use Christmas time to share the good news with other go ahead and post them below in the comments!
Next week we’ll talk about where we got Christmas traditions like Christmas trees, Santa Claus and caroling. It may surprise you!
Sermonaudio: Here is the link to all six studies on Early Church History. Covering from the disciples to roughly present day: http://www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakerWithinSource=&subsetCat=&subsetItem=&mediatype=&includekeywords=&exactverse=&keyword=houseofgracehemet&keyworddesc=houseofgracehemet&currsection=sermonssource&AudioOnly=false&SourceOnly=true&keywordwithin=Early+Church+History&x=4&y=5