On Christmas (a little bit of history)
There are many in America who are remembering how off-track our whole culture is about Christmas. Some are asking good questions on when Jesus was born and should we even be celebrating it. We think that those questions are very helpful for they come from a perspective of seeing the emptiness in the worldliness in the holidays, and looking for the real reason and how to find His presence during this holiday season – which is a good thing :)
We think it’s obvious to everyone that the way Americans celebrate Christmas (which is now pretty typical around the world as well) is very backwards and does displease Christ, and certainly He will express that when they see Him Face to face.
And, to help that brief analysis make more sense – and answer your questions more clearly, I think it’s probably a good idea to do a brief history to fill in some gaps. Several thousand years ago, the academic teachers of that day (Greek, Roman, Egyptian – something there) discovered that they could figure out and predict the shortest day of the year. Somehow, they then combined that date with folklore and mythology prior to that discovery and turned that date into a pagan ‘religious’ holiday – something with the sun god (false god). Those celebrations included propping up a tree, decorating it with gold and silver and throwing a perverse party – in ‘praise’ to an idol. In Jeremiah 10:2-5, God rebukes the pagan practice, and that was written around 629 BC. “Thus says the LORD: ‘Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; for one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers So that it will not topple. They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good.’”
Many of the 1st and 2nd century churches were powerful at overcoming evil and exposing and tearing down lies and false teachings. And, obviously, the devil had to try a different strategy – a different attack. So, he instead inspired the leaders to tell everyone that they are a ‘Christian’, just because they said so. In AD 313, Constantine called a gathering where he forced pagans and Christians to work out an ‘agreement’ of ‘common ground’ and what ‘holidays’ they could agree on. Today’s version of that is what is known as the ‘Christmas tree’, and that history goes back to AD 313, with Constantine and that council where they merged the ‘agreed-upon’ version of Christianity with paganism. The more serious Christians flatly rejected such agreements, pointing out that we ought to just focus on what Scripture focuses, making Scripture our only foundation for life.
A brief study of early church history shows that they didn’t even celebrate the birth of Christ because they didn’t know the date – it wasn’t important. However, not too much later, someone did try to figure out the date and then started to celebrate it, and sadly, it quickly became a worldly-minded celebration, rather than a Christ-honoring event. And considering the conclusion from the council with Constantine to be inaccurate, the date of December 25th is likely also not the right date, the date is probably around late September/ early October, around the Jewish holiday called Sukkot, literally meaning: ‘Feast of Tabernacles’. John 1:14 enhances this point, “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.” The word the for “dwelt” in the Greek is literally “tabernacle”, God came down and walked among. It certainly is an amazing thought and it ought to be the focal point of all of our celebrations of His coming. Also, in Matthew 1:23, God again states this clearly: “‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’” That is what we ought to be celebrating, and we ought to seriously exclude anything and everything that conflicts with or distracts from that as our primary focus and source of joy (during this season and all year long)!
However with all of that being said, it’s never wrong to celebrate Christ, it’s just wrong to pretend to celebrate Christ. And American celebrations are especially out-of-balance and not-Christ-honoring, when the gatherings have activities and traditions that encourage our selfishness and covetousness, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). So, in many ways, it’s not what we are celebrating, but how we do it (and the honest heart-attitudes behind it).
In Luke 2:1-12, we see the wise men travel a long way to see Jesus, and they worship Him when they find Him, and give Him gifts. It should be noted they didn’t give gifts to each other, they didn’t give their gifts to all of the people in that city – they gave them to Him. (Of course, Mary and Joseph had the financial responsibility of taking care of the young Jesus.) I think we in America really miss that perspective – giving to Jesus, to please Jesus – not giving to others to please others. Retailers and selfishness in this country has inspired the idea of giving gifts to each other, and that is something Jesus’ taught us not to do: “Then He also said to him who invited Him, ‘When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.’” (Luke 14:12-14)
Some say that somehow Mary ought to also be honored here for her role in raising Jesus, but that doesn’t line up with the Bible. Yes, we are amazed at how God used Mary, but she was just a servant, sometimes a faithful one, sometimes not. On that interesting note, later on in Jesus’ life, in Luke 11:27-28, a lady in a crowd commended His mother and Jesus’ reply was interesting: “But He said, ‘More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’” I think it’s worth noting that Jesus’ focus was on our obedience to God.
And another example, later on, Jesus’ mother and brothers tried to stop Jesus from preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of God and righteousness and repentance and obedience. That event and Jesus’ response is found in Matthew 12:46-50 “While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, ‘Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.’ And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.’” Again, what is Jesus’ focus and teaching us? Pleasing, honoring, and serving Him is the focus. In conclusion, we should not let anything distract from that real focus here and in all of life. :) It’s something we need to always be growing in.
I hope that brief review makes sense and inspires you and your family! I would love to hear any thoughts you had on that!
Also, a great thing to do, this or any time of year, is to go back and read the story of Jesus’ coming to earth as a baby. And I’m doing that, and encourage you and all my friends to do that too!
The starting passages are Matthew 1:17 - 2:23, and Luke 1:1 – 2:21. Of course, more in-depth study would include passages like Isaiah 7:14-16 and Isaiah 9:6-7, just to name a couple. If you check in on my short Bible posts, I plan to be covering some of that this month ~ :).
Take care! Your bro/ friend and
a growing servant/life-slave of Jesus, SH