Nov 232012
 

It’s now officially the time of year — i.e., Christmas —  when people find my website by searching for such unlikely things as “Is Christmas Pagan?” and “The True Meaning of Christmas Trees” and “Tacky Nativity Scenes” and, of course, “Angels We Have Heard on High” (SATB acapella). Ah, the joys of being an unsystematic theology blogger and eclectic composer.

As it happens, Christmas is also a pretty busy time for us grad students, so I may not have time to write something new for a while. Instead, here’s something old you might not have seen before.

When my article on Spiritual Abuse and Christmas Trees was featured on Quivering Daughters, it got a lot of enthusiastic feedback and a little bit of pushback. I had to respond to a couple of people who simply didn’t think that celebrating Christmas is biblical (which, usually, is Christianese for “we’re not allowed to do it”). Naturally, I see things a bit differently than that, and when I looked at my responses again, I thought they might be worth revisiting.

(NOTE: If you haven’t, you should read that post and the companion post first, especially if you’re planning to leave a comment!)

One commenter, “Tara,” wrote:

Okay, so the verses in Jeremiah are not about a Christmas tree, however you still have not used any biblical defense for Christmas. All of creation reminds us that everything God created is good, does that mean we should bring it in and decorate it in the name of Christ’s birth? The Bible tells us to keep the sabbath holy, using the day to remember Christs birth, work, and resurrection. Keeping Christmas takes away from these means God has given us to remember Christ’s birth, so keeping Christmas is a violation of the fourth commandment. Keeping Christmas is also a 3rd commandment violation because it tacks Christ’s name onto a celebration that has nothing to do with Christ, rather is contrary to God’s word.

My response:

Tara — For my “biblical defense for Christmas” (though I wouldn’t put it that way–why should I be defensive?) try this post that I linked in the article. It’s rather wry but goes into some more depth.

I appreciate your concern for honoring God’s Word, but I think you are stretching it too far to make your own points:

The fourth commandment does not mention “using the day to remember Christ’s birth, work, and resurrection.” Great if you do, but there’s no biblical reason we can’t do that on other days than just the Sabbath. Rather the opposite, I would think.

The “third commandment” bit I don’t buy at all: How does the celebration of Christ’s birth have nothing to do with Christ? Granted, the secular version of the celebration is not always much to do with Jesus–in that case, believers are keeping His name from being dishonored when they make the celebration about Him.

“All of creation reminds us that everything God created is good, does that mean we should bring it in and decorate it in the name of Christ’s birth?” Sure, why not? “God richly gives us all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). Pines in winter, flowers in spring, and leaves in autumn. It’s all about the Artist.

Also, consider the festival of Purim in the book of Esther. Like Christmas, it was not directly ordained by God, but the Jewish people used it to celebrate God’s deliverance, including such things as reading of Scripture, family meals, gifts, and fun dress-up and games for children. Why wouldn’t God be pleased with that?

Then a commenter who signed their name “S.Schultz” chimed in:

The reason why my family no longer celebrates christmas is for one very simple reason….Truth.
‘Christmas’ is not true. Yes, Jesus was born….that is truth, and I am so grateful for this truth. Jesus is not ‘christmas’. This has nothing to do with ‘redeeming’ a man-made holiday, christmas trees, the 25th of December, the (3?) wiseman, ect., ect. It has everything to do with Truth… & we are never to compromise truth for love or for grace…. For TRUTH is love & grace. We are called to make a distinction between the holy and common, the clean and unclean.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of Jesus, (we would agree that there is nowhere in scripture that says we are to do so, and we are instructed not to add to or take away anything from scripture) what is wrong is when that yearly ritual keeps one from leaving the elementary doctrines about Christ (his birth) and going on to perfection. Maturity is a process, and it is only by his grace given that we desire to do anything. It is all His work. My desire is to see my Father receive His inheritance, sons & daughters FULLY formed into the image of their elder brother Christ Jesus.

The things that be of men, the traditions, the doctrines…all of these keep the Lord’s people in bondage, and stunted in their spiritual growth. We are called to desire truth in our innermost being, and this will cause us to lay down many of our idols and false images of Him.

His blessings of peace and love to you!
S.Schulz

And I responded:

S., I’m glad to say that I’ve never heard of anyone at all who was kept from maturing in Christ by celebrating His birth. Quite the opposite, actually. Reflecting on Jesus’ incarnation is one of the things that can help us to become more like Him, as for instance Paul presents it in Philippians 2.

The “things that be of men” in Mark’s gospel are not traditions but our natural tendency to avoid the Cross–that’s clear in the context of chapter 8. Anyway, it’s not an idol or false image to believe that Jesus was born for us. It’s truth, and it’s certainly the kind of truth like the Crucifixion and Resurrection that’s worth taking time to remember at least once a year. Compare the feast of Purim, which wasn’t directly commanded by God either, but which made a yearly celebration of God’s deliverance into “a day of joy and feasting, a day for giving presents to each other” (Esther 9:17-19). God certainly approved!

On truth and love, I’d be wary of drawing dichotomies and distinctions that the Scripture doesn’t make. “God is love” (1 John 4:16). So, for instance, John takes a person’s lack of love toward their brothers as sufficient proof that their belief in God is untrue (1 John 2:9, 4:20). Truth that isn’t loving is as phony as love that isn’t true.

Thanks for your comments! Grace and peace to you.

  • Good job, Eric. I don’t think God gets offended at our celebrations of his son.

    • Thanks, Sisterlisa, and very true! It’s really a sad proof of how entrenched legalism can get when you see Christians objecting to celebrating Christ.

  • author

    Christ, in the temptation in the wilderness, said that man is to live by every word of God. In the face of every temptation Satan through at Him, He countered by quoting Old Testament scripture.

    Deuteronomy 12:29-32 is clear that we are not to immitate the way pagan’s worshipped their gods in the way that we worship the true God. The customs of Christmas are from pagan religious traditions and therefore we should not use these customs to worship the true God.

    The worse part of Christmas and other man-made Christian holidays is that they are really Satan’s substitute for the annual holy days and festivals God has ordained: Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day. Each of these is rich in meaning for Christians. Passover represents the sacrifice of Christ, Pentecost represents the gift of the Holy Spirit, Trumpets represents the second coming of Christ, yet to occur, to mention a few examples (if you want to know the meaning of the other days, look for an article in Google called “the meaning of Pentecost” or “the Secret Meaning of Pentecost” – something like that. It gives the scriptures too). God commands these days to be kept, yet we do not keep them. That is not exactly living by every word of God as Jesus Christ taught by word and example.

    It is because we as a nation do not live by God’s word, even most mainstream Christian churches, that God will will bring in a few years a punishment so great on us that about 90% of our people will die in starvation, disease, war, and other causes.

    • Kristen Rosser

      In the book of Galatians, the Judaizers said all Gentiles needed to become Jewish and practice the whole Torah. Paul said no. He said to be led by the Spirit. The Spirit has never yet objected to my celebrating the Son’s birth with greenery, lights and gift-giving.

      • Thanks for commenting, Kristen! Yes, Galatians is a solid antidote to every kind of legalism.

    • Author – Thanks for your comment. I’ve already addressed these ideas about paganism in this article and this one. In brief, those so-called “pagan symbols” (trees, snow, food, presents…?) are actually God’s creations, so it is false to say they must always be sinful just because ancient pagans may have once misused them. They are still created by God for us to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17).

      As for festivals, Colossians 2:16-19 specifically says that faith in Jesus is not a matter of keeping rules about special days; that’s missing the very point they symbolize, which is salvation by faith in Christ. Also, Romans 14 explicitly leaves observing holidays up to a believer’s individual conscience, which means there is no room for judging.

      God’s word actually says that the feasts and other OT Laws don’t apply to believers under the New Covenant — see Galatians 3 and 4. So I doubt very much that God will change His mind and punish people for not observing them! That’s not a grace-based but a works-based doctrine. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”

      • R

        But when we focus on God’s creation rather than God himself- that is idolatry. Very few Christians celebrate Christ in Christmas. If you’re going to celebrate it, it should be completely Jesus-centered. Also, I think if some would rather not celebrate it, that’s fine too. No-one actually has to observe Christmas. There is no law or decree or anything even mentioned in the Bible. I’m one of those that never has and never will. I see no reason to. God didn’t “invent” Christmas- man did. I remember Jesus’ birth every day and celebrate His birth and give thanks for his sacrificial death every day.

        • R – Yes, of course that’s idolatry… but is anyone doing it?

          I think it’s a vast overgeneralization to say “Very few Christians celebrate Christ in Christmas.” Really? I’ve been to lots of Christmas celebrations with lots of Christians in lots of different traditions, and there’s no question Whose birth they’re observing. Possibly you’ve had a very unfortunate sample group!

          Of course Romans 14 (as mentioned above) leaves it up to your conscience to celebrate holidays or not, so I won’t quibble there. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • Dillon

      Do you actually keep the law? Please don’t tell me, “I try to.” In the Torah there is no such thing as “You should try to.” What is the location of your feast site for the Feast of Tabernacles? Do you celebrate it in places like the Bahamas, Niagara Falls, Panama City, Florida or even Orlando? And do you stay in a hotel to celebrate it? If you do stay in a hotel to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, I have some bad news for you. First of all, why do you stay in a hotel during that Feast? The feast is called: The Feast of Booths <— Literal Hebrew, NOT the Feast of Hotels. The Feasts in the Torah are PILGRIMAGE FEASTS to Jerusalem. Do you believe that the Torah has been changed? No, right? Therefore neither has the command to blow trumpets and neither has the command to make booths of palm branches and NEITHER HAS THE COMMAND TO GO TO JERUSALEM. Deuteronomy chapters 14 and 16 describe the Feast of Tabernacles as one of three “pilgrim feasts” to which citizens of Israel were to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate and eat of their tithes. That is why so many people were in Jerusalem for Passover and Unleavened bread when Jesus was arrested. And that is why so many people had traveled to Jerusalem for that first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the church. And that is why so many traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles as described in the gospels. And yes, this is why the Jews and Hellenistic Jews who became Christians traveled to Jerusalem for these feasts in the early days of the church before the temple was destroyed. There can be no doubt that the place that the Lord placed his name at that time was Jerusalem and that the people were to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the pilgrim feasts including the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles was to be celebrated where the Lord placed his name in Jerusalem NOT anywhere your church chooses. "And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. You shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days." Lev 23:40-42. So here we see that they were to dwell in booths made from the branches of specific trees. The Jews built these booths on the flat roofs of houses, in the streets or in the fields. And it is commonly understood that these four trees were the citron, the palm, the myrtle, and the willow. Nehemiah chapter 8 also addresses this and specifically identifies the trees and instruction to dwell in booths. The Hebrew word for booth is sukkâ, which means a crude temporary shelter made of woven branches. They were to construct these crude shelters to be reminded of when they had to dwell in crude shelters following their exit from Egypt. “that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” Lev 23:43 Why don't you go to Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Tabernacles? That is what the Law instructs. So how do you know where God has placed His name for the feast if it is not in scripture? Each organization has its own feast sites in different locations; did God choose all these places to put his name? Think about it, does this make sense to you? One might argue that in today’s society it is not possible to go to Jerusalem. Well, why not? Besides, the Law is the Law and if God says to go to Jerusalem then we should do it, right? Let me remind you of a favorite scripture of the Churches of God. It is the proof, they say, that the Christian church should observe the feast because the Feast of Tabernacles is identified as being observed after the return of Jesus to the earth.

      Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. Zech 14:16

      But notice that they are keeping the feast in Jerusalem. It is so important to travel to Jerusalem that the surviving people of the nations who do not come to Jerusalem at that time will not receive rain. If these verses prove that the church should be keeping the Feast of Tabernacles today, then why do not the Churches of God observe it in Jerusalem as commanded?And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. Zech 14:17 Even the Assemblies of Yahweh do the same thing. If we ask them,"why do you not live in a palm booth during the Feast of Tabernacles?", they will probably answer, "Well, the blood of Christ changed the law and that's why we don't need to make booths of palms or go to Jerusalem to keep the feast. When Christ died, Jerusalem no longer had central authority to the Law, therefore, we are free to keep the Law anywhere we choose." I would respond,"Really? That would contradict Matthew 5 and Deuteronomy 12:29-31 which clearly says that not a jot, nor a dot, shall pass away from the Law. So if the Law has not been changed then neither has the location of worship and neither has the command for booths of palms. Palm branches are PALM BRANCHES, NOT concrete! What authority do you have to change the location of worship? NONE!!!! What authority do you have to take away from the rituals of this feast and replacing it with fancy stuff? NONE!!!! Did Jesus stay in a hotel during the Feast of Tabernacles? NO!!!! He would have built a booth and lived in it for eight days in JERUSALEM, NOT the Bahamas. Yet at the same time you claim to "follow Christ." How ironic, these very people claim to keep the Law and yet they take away from the Law, which Deuteronomy 12 forbids. I only hope anyone reading these points, would wake up and smell the coffee. You cite Deut 12:29-31 as your proof that we should be keeping the feasts but yet I'm sure you don't make palm booths or blow trupets or circumcise or any of that stuff. You claim to keep the Torah and yet you take away from it, which is the very thing that Deut 12:29-30 forbids. Oh and by the way Deuteronomy 12:29-31 was talking specifically about human sacrifice, NOT a generic command against pagan customs, as God implemented pagan customs in His worship. God chose gold from Egypt, which was used in all kinds of debauchery to be held sacred unto Him. And who told you that fir trees were an abomination unto Yahweh? The Hebrew word for fir (Ber.o.wos) isn't present anywhere in Jeremiah. It is, however, present in Hosea 14:8 where God analogises Himself to a (Ber.o.wos) fir tree! Would God analogise Himself to an abomination? I guess not.