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Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

joyI received an email this week from one of my students in India. She wanted to know if I could give her a biblical defense for celebrating Christmas. I said that I could and couldn’t.

On the one hand, “Christmas” was not a known part of some church liturgical calendar until the age of Constantine. [1]

On the other hand, great moments of decisive impact on a people are commonly made a memorial in time, lest a people forget what it meant for them going forward, lest they fail to commemorate those who labored or sacrificed to make their present reality possible. This is the root of all “biblical” celebration in Passover, feast of tabernacles, Pentecost etc.

Personally, I think Christmas is awesome. The lights. The ornament. The Giving & subsequent receiving of gifts. The opportunity for merchandisers to rise out of the red and into the black, preserving so many jobs for yet another year.

It’s not uncommon, however, to encounter memes heralding the pagan roots of some of our symbolism, or defying seasonal fixation on the Baby Jesus vs. his temple cleansing, parable preaching, Pharisee cursing, dying, resurrecting and ascending adult version. I regularly run across bumper stickers, and the like declaring, “I celebrate Jesus, every day,” suggesting, of course, that if you celebrate Christmas that you don’t celebrate him the rest of the year too.

These seem to despise liturgy as unspiritual, preferring a “free flowing Spirit leading” to a calendar that reviews the memorial stones and theological foundations yearly, for surely the Holy Spirit hates order and seasonal remembrance, and desperately desires to move only through randomness and undisciplined meandering… Torah Celebrations be darned!!!

In fact, in my church growing up, we were so free flowing in the Spirit that you would hear just about any message, but a birth message at Christmas or a resurrection message around Easter. We were so spiritual that we never covered the basics at all…  ever… never ever. We wore these phenomenal holes in our theology and biblical considerations like badges of spiritual honor. We celebrated Christmas in our homes, but ignored it in church. Take advantage of a twice yearly opportunity to speak a word to unsaved hearts coming near to a contemplation of our savior??? Not us, we were too spiritual for that.

Are millions or even thousands led to Christ every year, when… driving by the homes of pristine spiritual believers at Yule Tide… they witness lightless yards and treeless living rooms? Do they say, “Truly God is manifest in power there… just look how plain and unadorned the place is!” Do they get your subtlety? I doubt it… but, hey! If you’ve got some testimony to share, feel free.

Do imperfect people celebrate Christmas with imperfect motives at times? Duh!

Do imperfect people celebrate it with imperfect actions sometimes? Duh2!

Was Jesus born on December 25th? No.

Was this date chosen because this time of year was a focal point for several different pagan holidays centered around the winter solstice and a key time for pagan fear? Yes.

Did… (emphasis on DID) many of the symbols we use, like holly over doorways, greenery wrapped windows and fire places, decorated trees and the like have meaning in common pagan rituals? Yes.

Is this proof that they are acts of the Devil that should be eschewed? No. Does this history render the holiday season a waste? A spiritual virus? A Syncretistic villainy? Of Course not.

It can all be a matter of perspective and focus. We can look at the absorption of these practices as acts of paganism, rather than transformation, or we can look at them as calculated attempts to connect with pagans in their fears in order to turn their hearts to Christ through known mediums… meaning known materials and methods not known tea leaf readers and crystal ball gazers.

We can see this as the paganizing of the gospel (which wicked hearts are prone to do… think Simon Magus in the early Church, who did this with Peter’s gospel preaching) or as a takeover and rewriting of the heart’s yearly script in order to redeem their habitual feasting for the purposes of Christ (what it became for untold millions over the centuries).

For many, however, the perfect thing (that heart vision of a once lost pristine church that never actually existed and never will) becomes the diabolical enemy of a good thing. They despise anything that is not, in their estimation, immaculate. To these, the church went wrong in the hands of Constantine when it became a world-wide phenomenon (never mind that it carried the message of salvation through Christ (imperfectly at times) to hundreds of millions of souls that never would have heard it otherwise) and the church wasn’t right again until… the reformation, or the puritans, or Baptists, or until their own little congregation graced the world with its presence.

Me? I’ll take a less than perfect yearly commemoration that brings our savior’s divine breaking into human history through incarnation rather than a spiritually smug unadorned contemptuous chuff at Christmas any day? I don’t care what Christmas trees, holly, yule logs, egg nog, or sparkly lights were used to symbolize ages past among the pagans; I care instead what all these things became in hands and hearts of those who have been commemorating the Birth of Christ, his spectacular entrance into human history, for centuries. I don’t care what these things were, I care what they are. I care about their usefulness in preaching about Christ today. I won’t waste that opportunity being smug and self-congratulating.

The angels from heaven thought that day worth celebrating before the world, making a divine birth announcement to those shepherds in the form of a gospel proclamation to those languishing in darkness. I for one, think that event is worth remembering, worth singing about before those still languishing in darkness.

More on this soon.

[1] “Today is Christmas day (Christ’s mass). But for the first 300 years of Christianity, it wasn’t so. When was Christmas first celebrated? In an old list of Roman bishops, compiled in A. D. 354 these words appear for A.D. 336: “25 Dec.: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae.” December 25th, Christ born in Bethlehem, Judea. This day, December 25, 336, is the first recorded celebration of Christmas” http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/301-600/the-1st-recorded-celebration-of-christmas-11629658.html

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