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Christmas - Is it a Christian Celebration?

Christmas is traditionally a time of festivity, gift-giving and family get-togethers. In the southern hemisphere it is a time for holidaying, taking a break from work and getting refreshed at the beach. It is a time when businesses close, and very few remain open on Christmas Day.

Around the world there are many that make Christmas day one of their few pilgrimages to Church, to remember the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. But for many more, it is the "high day" of their regular attendance, rated along with the Holy Days of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

What is Christmas?
The word Christmas is derived from the combination of two words: Christ and mass. The word Christ is a Greek word, meaning 'anointed'. We hear the phrase 'Jesus Christ' so often that we may think that it was Jesus' second name. But it is not a name, but a description. The verb 'anoint' has the following meanings:(1)

1 To apply oil, ointment, or a similar substance to.
2 To put oil on during a religious ceremony as a sign of sanctification or consecration.
3. To choose by or as if by divine intervention.

The anointing of Jesus was not with oil, but with the Holy Spirit.

"You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached-how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him." Acts 10:36-38

You may well be familiar with the equivalent Hebrew word for anointed - messiah.

The second part of Christmas is mass. In its religious application, the word has two applications.(1)
1. a. Public celebration of the Eucharist in the Roman Catholic Church and some Protestant churches. b. The sacrament of the Eucharist.
2. A musical setting of certain parts of the Mass, especially the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei.

It is in the sense of the first definition that it comes to form part of the word Christmas. It discloses the fact that the Christmas celebration is founded upon the Roman Catholic practice of Mass, and Protestant churches have continued the same practice without any change.

In summary, Christmas-as defined within the word-is of Roman Catholic derivation, and has little to do with any information derived from the Bible itself.

The Date
Jesus Christ was born about the year B.C.4,(2) or B.C.E 4(3). The narrative of Jesus' birth is provided in Luke 2.

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Luke 2:8-12

The climate was mild, and to keep their flocks from straying the shepherds remained overnight in the field with them. However, in the latter part of October or the beginning of November, when the cold weather commenced the flocks were taken indoors. It is clear that Jesus was born well before December, for at that time it was cold, especially in the high and mountainous area about Nazareth. God does not reveal to us the date of Jesus' birth.


However, we can approximate the time from the details of his period of preaching.

"Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry." Luke 3:23.

He preached for about 3½ years, and was put to death on the 14th of Nisan, corresponding with the end of March and beginning of April. This would suggest that he was born about the months of September or October.

Christmas Day has been observed on the present mid-winter date of 25 December for over sixteen hundred years-a date that is inconsistent with the Bible record. The earliest record of the recognition of 25 December as a church festival is in the Philocalian Calendar (copied 354 but representing Roman practise in 336). Soon after the end of the last great persecution, about the year 330, the Church in Rome definitely assigned 25 December for the celebration of the birth of Christ. For while, many Eastern Churches continued to keep other dates, but toward the end of the fourth century the Roman custom became universal.

No official reason has been handed down in ecclesiastical documents for the choice of this date. Consequently, various explanations have been given to justify the celebration of the Lord's nativity on this particular day.

It would appear to be more than co-incidental that Constantine selected this date as a suitable one when he attempted to harmonise the traditions of both Pagans and Christians. There remains then this explanation, which is the most probable one, and held by most scholars in our time: the choice of 25 December was influenced by the fact that the Romans, from the time of Emperor Aurelian (275A.D.), had celebrated the feast of the sun god (Dies Natalis Solis Invicti; the Nativity of the Invincible Sun) on that day. The 25th of December, when the sun was the lowest in the sky-and the day period the shortest-was called the "Birthday of the Sun," and great pagan religious celebrations of the Mithras cult were held all through the empire. What was more natural than that the Christians celebrate the birth of him who was the "Light of the World" and the true "Sun of Justice" on this very day? The popes seem to have chosen December 25 precisely for the purpose of inspiring the people to turn from the worship of a material sun to the adoration of Christ the Lord. This thought is indicated in various writings of contemporary authors.

A Christian Festival?
In view of its origin, Christmas has been viewed as a 'Christenised pagan festival'. Such a description is undoubtedly true. The apostles and disciples knew nothing of such a celebration, for nothing even approaching a celebration of the anniversary of his birth is noted in the New Testament,(4) nor in the writings of the 'Early Church Fathers' of the next few centuries. In fact, it is the very absence of such a celebration that leads to a complete lack of information regarding an exact date. It was in the absence of such a date that the winter solstice was selected as appropriate for 'reclassification' as a Christian Festival or Mass - Christmas.

Does it do harm to celebrate Christmas if one does so as a Christian, and not as a pagan?

Almost all Christians would say that its Pagan origins are centuries in the past and are no longer relevant to today's celebration. Just as 'Sunday' is no longer treated as 'Sun' day-a day devoted to the worship of the sun-or 'Thursday' no longer treated as a day for worshipping the Greek god, Thor; so Christmas is in our time the genuine celebration of worshipping of Jesus' birth.(5)

A Bible Lesson
There is a relevant and valuable lesson contained in the Old Testament record concerning the lives of the early Israelites. These people had been in captivity in Egypt for 400 years, and Moses had been raised up to rescue them from their bondage under the hand of an oppressive Pharaoh. The story of their deliverance from Egypt and their 40-year journey to the Promised Land is narrated in the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers-particularly the book of Exodus. The New Testament writer, Paul, makes the following comment regarding their abysmal wilderness behaviour:

"These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" 1 Corinthians 10:11,12

Despite their servitude to a cruel Pharaoh, the Israelites looked back on their suffering in a new light when they were faced with the harsh conditions, dry heat and barrenness of the Egyptian desert through which Moses was leading them. They pined for the comparative luxuries of their former circumstances.


So when their leader Moses was absent at Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people became rebellious.

"When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him." Exodus 32:1

The narrative relates how their deputy-leader Aaron asked the people to pass to him all the gold jewellery that they had acquired from the Egyptians, and from this he moulded a golden calf. Now the people were familiar with this calf for it was a favourite and powerful god of the Egyptians-Apis, the Bull-the god of fertility.

"He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD." "So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry." Exodus 32:4-6

It is important to note exactly what Aaron had done-he had taken a pagan object from Egypt, wrapped in a new appearance by erecting God's altar in front of it, and had celebrated a feast.

Was God pleased? Allow the narrative to explain the situation.

"Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.' "I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them." Exodus 32:7-10

Fortunately Moses interceded for the people, and they were not destroyed.

Remembering Paul's words that these things happened to the Israelites and were recorded for the express purpose of warning us, then we have a valid and sobre reason for examining our attitude towards Christmas.

Christmas is demonstrably a pagan festival that has been adapted to Christian practice. The process of its inception has precisely paralleled that of the golden calf. Is Christmas therefore any more acceptable to God than was the celebration of the Israelites? Doubtless the Israelites were sincere in their worship, adapting the pagan symbol for their own use. But their sincerity was of little use-God required pure, unadulterated, worship.

Christmas and Christianity
It matters little how long ago the conversion of a pagan feast took place-time alone does not annul a sinful practice.

Nowhere in the New Testament are followers of Jesus Christ called upon to commemorate his birth. Rather are we asked to commemorate his death-and resurrection.(6)

Nowhere does the Bible specifically identify the date of Jesus' birth. Nor was it of consequence to know the time. If it had been, God would have preserved the record of it. Matters of importance are clearly revealed. Those things that God regards as of no importance are concealed.

It would be wise therefore to avoid the wrath of our Heavenly Father, and put Christmas aside from any occasion of celebration. Celebrate with the death and resurrection of Jesus by all means, for this is a Biblical command. In so doing, one is showing one's love toward their Saviour who endured a cruel excruciating death on the stake, that we might have life.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:16,17

All quotations have been taken from the New International Version by permission.

(1) The American Heritage Dictionary
(2) The reason why he was born about four years 'before Christ' lies in the fact that the person who originally developed the system was about four years out in his calculation. He was born at the time of Qurinius' first census (Luke 6:2) and he officiated from B.C.6 to B.C.4.
(3) The abbreviation "B.C." means "Before Christ", and the more recent abbreviation "B.C.E" means "before the Christian Era".
(4) It is recorded that there was much celebration by the heavenly angels at his birth, but not on any subsequent 'birthday'.
(5) Despite the inclusion of pagan customs associated with candles, trees, etc.
(6) Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24,25.

 

 

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