2. Family holiday: Christmas is the great annual occasion for families to come together; for many, it is the only time that they will see relatives all year. In an age of increased mobility, long-distance relations, individual and family dislocation, a time-honored occasion to gather together should be welcomed by all who support the family (Chinese New Year apparently has a similar emphasis).
Luke 2 (KJV)
1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. 2(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
You have just read the ‘Christmas Story.’ The word Christmas, meaning ‘mass on Christ’s day,’ is a relatively recent term in the 2,000 year span of Christianity. It was known as Yule, feast of the winter solistice. It is also known as Navidad in Spanish, Natale in Italian, Noël in French, and Weihnachten in German. No matter what you call it, Christmas is the Christian festival which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.
Christmas is a major public holiday in many countries, including those where the Christian population is a minority. Whether celebrated with ‘shrimp on the barbie’ on an Australian beach or with snow covered roofs, frosted trees, and chestnuts roasting on a open fire, or a traditional English meal of turkey, potatoes, vegetables, Christmas pudding, mince pies and fruit cake, Christmas continues to be a popular holiday--in some cases, wildly so.
Christmas has evolved over the centuries and there is much uncertainty, if not legend, about the origin of many traditional practices. The first known identification of December 25th as ‘Christ’s birthday’ was in the years 221 AD by Sextus Julius Africanus. This date was a popular Roman holiday which observed the winter solstice, where a resurgent sun drives out the winter blues and ushers in the brightness and rebirth of spring. The holiday has gone from ‘pagan’ to ‘Christian’ to ‘secular’ to ‘Christo-secular.’
While the evidence is strong that Christ was not born on December 25th, this is not the only instance of a given day being observed which is not the correct day. For example, the Queen’s birthday is April 21st, yet in Australia her birthday is celebrated in June and September ... and no one is demanding to change this, be they an Australian republican or constitutional monarchist.
Christmas traditions evolved over the years. For example:
• The exchanging of gifts, on a regular basis, may have commenced at the end of the 18th Century.
• Sending and receiving of Christmas cards may have begun in Britain in the 19th Century.
• Christmas carols commenced earlier--perhaps in the 15th Century--and after a lull, were revived and became a cherish part of the festivities.
• Christmas trees may have come from Germany in the 19th century and are most probably of pagan origin. In II Kings 17:10 it says ‘They set up for themselves sacred pillars and wooden images on every high hill and under every green trees’ and similar passages are used to warn against the ‘pagan practice’ of bowing down in front of the green Christmas tree in order to retrieve the presents below.
• What about Santa Claus? Originally, it was Saint Nicholas of Myra in Asia Minor (Turkey), who lived in the 4th Century. He was known as a generous man who ministered to children and gave gifts. The name, Santa Claus, may have come from the Dutch word Sinterklaas, which simply means ‘Saint Nicholas.’ The image of Santa Claus, dress in red with white trim, a long white beard and dwelling at the North Pole, is probably a New York ‘Madison Avenue’ creation of the 19th Century.
Yet despite its beloved place in the yearly calendar, Christmas is also under attack. Political correctness has worked hard to de-Christianise this major Christian festival. Words like ‘Season’s Greeting’ and ‘Compliments of the Season’ or ‘Happy Holidays’ have been replacing the simple phrase: ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’ (which was first used in 1843). Public displays of Nativity Scenes and the singing of Christmas carols have been vigorously opposed in various places in the United States. Ironically, as Christmas is under assault in politically-correct America, it is gaining enthusiastic acceptance in Asia.
Christians, past and present, have also attacked Christmas. This includes Protestant reformers, Puritans in America, and those Christians who think that Christmas is too pagan, secular, or commercial, to be worthy of observance.
In this blog, I want to offer you a simple case for why we should celebrate Christmas, more than ever.
5One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.6He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. Romans 14:5-6f NKJV
1. Sanctified: Forget about the winter solstice, hanging boughs, green trees, and old St. Nick riding on a sleigh with Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. Christmas is about Christ. While there is no Scriptural command to observe Christmas per se, however, the event itself is clearly Biblical. God became a man and dwelt among us--Immanuel. The incarnation--God in the flesh--is the event that changed all history as well as the eternal destiny of all who believe. There is a case that any and every day can be observed for the LORD. The psalmist triumphantly declared ‘This is the day that the LORD hath made.’ Every day belongs to the LORD, we should never have a ‘day off’ from God, and we should never miss an opportunity to celebrate Him.
Remember that Jerusalem, the Holy City and Heavenly City, spent the first 1,000 of its 4,000 year history as a heathen city. Once David captured Jebus, it was transformed into the City of David, City of the Great King, and City of God. Likewise, we who have received salvation in Christ were once heathen as well. Saving faith has an amazing ability to apply the cleansing, transforming power of God on any earthen vessel. Hundreds of years of sacred observance surely has rendered Christmas a fit occasion to remember and rejoice in God.
3. Giving: Yes, Christmas is the quinessential economic stimulus package. It is the time of year that merchants anticipate increased sales. But there is something even more significant. Christmas teaches the joy of giving. With so much selfishness, self-centredness in our culture, Christmas makes people remember that life is not about ‘getting’ but about ‘giving.’ Giving to family, friends, the church, and the less fortunate, is as much a part of the Christmas tradition as the outward decorations or candy canes. Jesus Himself says ‘It is more blessed to give than receive’ (Acts 20:35).
4. Celebration: Our age is one that enjoys a good celebration. What better opportunity to celebrate ‘God’s Gift to Humanity’ than in a well-planned Christmas celebration. Celebrating the birth of Christ should not be considered odd or unscriptural, after all, the angels did in Luke Chapter Two.
5. Evangelism: Christmas offers the church an under-used but outstanding opportunity for evangelism. People who avoid church all year will be found in the House of God on Christmas Day. People who have no exposure to Christian things become accessible and open to the gospel message, because of Christmas.Years ago, when I lived in Jerusalem, our church put on a big Christmas party. The main house was elaborately decorated with all kinds of Christmas trimmings. Then we hosted an ‘open house’ and invited all our local friends. Jews--observant and secular--as well as Arab Muslims and Christians, flocked to the open house, ate our copious amount of snacks, and had prolonged contact with Christians -- possibly the only time in the year. No, we did not give an evangelistic sermon but we did continue the contact with them. A few did end up attending our services.
Christmas does give us the chance to exchange gifts, have a wonderful family-friend meal, and most importantly, reflect on the greatest gift of all -- the coming of God’s Son, Jesus Christ the Savior. For all who receive Him, He becomes the ‘gift that keeps on giving.’ See for yourself.
Merry Christmas and Happy 2010.