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!

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.