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Should Christians observe Christmas? Was Jesus Born on Dec 25? What about Christmas trees? and others questions answered.
by Pastor Aaron Richert, with excerpts from Dr. R. B. Oullette
This is an article intended to encourage people. Jesus did warn about getting caught up in traditions (Mark 7:8; Colossians 2:8). However, not all traditions are bad (weekly church services, meal-time prayers, etc).
2 Thessalonians 2:15
Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
We can get so caught up in debating the smallest details, that we miss more important issues. In essence, we major on the minors and minor on the majors. This too is warned against in the scriptures (1 Timothy 1:4).
It doesn’t really matter when Jesus was born, just that He was born. A miraculous birth; born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Ghost, and the greatest gift mankind could receive! A Redeemer (Isa 59:20) and the Propitiation for our sins (1 John2:2)! There is much to celebrate in remembering this great day (not necessarily December 25th, but that there was a day, and that is what we are remembering). The Gospel is, and our focus ought to be, the death burial, and resurrection according to the scriptures.If Christ was not born of a virgin, then He would have had Adam’s blood flowing through his veins which include a sin nature. Therefore, He would not have been able to pay for our sins. His miraculous birth is important, and a day to celebrate!
Throughout the Old Testament, whenever God would do something noteworthy, the people would be commanded to set up a memorial, or a feast, or something to regularly remember what was done. That is what the Passover was about. It was a memorial for what God did in Egypt, and what He was going to do through His Messiah. This is also what we are doing every time we partake in the Lord’s Table, or communion. Remembering the birth and also the resurrection are memorials worth having a tradition for. Just because some have defiled them does not mean we should abandon them, but rather observe them properly, with Christ in the center.
This is not an issue worth breaking fellowship over, nor is it something worth condemning Christians on either side of the issue.
In regards to observing holy days (where we get holidays) and eating certain foods, Paul addressed the issue be saying we have liberties. The context here is that we should not judge one another for their religious traditions. It is not forbidden, nor is it commanded. We each may choose on this matter.
5. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
6. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth thanks.
Having said that, I would like to look at a couple of the Christmas traditions.
This article address many areas regarding Christmas: Christmas trees, December 25, pagan and Catholic traditions, and more.
The following is an excerpt for the book “Things that aren’t so” by Dr. R. B. Ouellette (2006).
Was Jesus Born on December 25th?
There are people to whom the celebration of Christmas, or not celebrating it, is a major issue. I don’t believe this is the kind of issue over which people should break fellowship. It’s not a fundamental of the faith. We ought to be able to get along with God’s people unless there are substantive scriptural issues on which we cannot agree. However, this is also not an issue on which we have to be confused. Careful study and comparing Scripture with Scripture allow us to arrive at a conclusion based, not on someone’s opinions, but on the Word of God.
The Common Teaching…
The common but incorrect teaching is that we can’t really have any idea when Jesus was born, and sometimes there is a corollary teaching that Christians should not celebrate Christmas. The people who promote this belief say that December 25 is just adopted from a pagan holiday with a veneer of Christianity covering it. This common teaching may have some basis in historical fact. In the fourth century, the Roman emperor Constantine was facing a large battle against rather significant odds. He claimed he had a vision and saw a cross. A voice said, “In the sign of this cross conquer.” He went out and won the battle. As a result, he made Christianity the legal religion in the empire; but most people believe it was not a genuine conversion. Since pagan priests in their temples were looking at unemployment, they simply added a few rituals, changed a few names, and called themselves Christians. They gave Christian names to pagan practices. That is the true beginning of the Roman Catholic Church. It wasn’t started by Peter. That is also the source of many of the errors of the Catholics. They worship Mary because pagan priests changed the names of their goddess and the people followed right along. Those who object to celebrating Christmas and declare that we do not know when Jesus was born typically teach the following:
CHRISTMAS TREES AND DECORATIONS ARE FORBIDDEN BY SCRIPTURE.
People who object to Christmas trees most often refer to Jeremiah 10 for their proof text.
Jeremiah 10: 3,4
3. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
4. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
They say that this passage is referring to our custom of putting up and decorating Christmas trees. However, the verses surrounding verse 3 and 4, the context, are clearly talking about idols made from trees. The prophet says that since they cannot speak or move and have no power, there is no need to be afraid of false idols (vs. 5).
DECEMBER 25 WAS CELEBRATED AS THE MITHRAIC FEAST DAY.
Mithra was a Persian version of the Hindu sun god Mitra. According to the Zoroastrian religion, Mithra was the god of light, and his feast was celebrated each year on December 25. At the time when Constantine made Christianity a legal religion in Rome, worship of Mirthra was very widespread throughout the empire, particularly among the soldiers of the Roman army.
THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH TOOK THE PAGAN ZOROASTRIAN HOLIDAY AND RENAMED IT CHRIST’S MASS.
The first recorded celebration of Christmas on December 25 in the Roman Empire took place in A.D. 336, twenty-three years after “Christianity” became a legal religion. There is no question that some of the elements of early Christianity celebrations came from pagan religions. This association led many Christians to frown on the celebration of Christmas. In fact, in the early days of Massachusetts Bay Colony, a fine of five shillings was imposed on anyone found following the “popish tradition” of celebrating Christmas.
THE CONTRADICTORY TRUTH
Regarding the celebration of Christmas and the timing of Christ’s birth, I believe there is much to be gained by studying history and Scripture. An honest conclusion from such study will be in contrast to what some teach.
THE CHRISTMAS TREE HAS A CHRISTIAN ORIGIN.
In Dr. John R. Rice’s sermon “Should a Christian Observe Christmas?” which is in the book “Great Preaching on Christmas,” he recounts the story of the origin of the Christmas tree.
In the eighth century, a missionary named Boniface went to Germany to preach Christ. The Germanic tribes worshiped the oak tree. They thought of it as a symbol of deity. Boniface told them the oak tree was a poor symbol for God. It sheds its leaves and appears to die each winter. The tree that should remind them of God, he said, was the evergreen. It is always green and thriving. Christmas trees became popular in England primarily through the influence of the German-born Prince Albert, husband of England’s Queen Victoria. In America, they were introduced by the Dutch (German) immigrants to Pennsylvania. Because the Christmas tree has a Christian origin and is not forbidden in Scripture, there is not reason to preach against it and cut people off from what can be a very enjoyable and memorable part of celebrating the birth of Christ.
THE BIBLE DOES NOT RULE OUT DECEMBER AS THE MONTH WHEN CHRIST WAS BORN.
It is true that Scripture does not give us an exact date for the birth of Christ. However, through careful study we can demonstrate that Jesus could have been born very close to the traditional date of December 25.
a) The Hebrew religious year begins with the month Nisan. The Hebrew calendar has 354 days instead of 365 days, so their calendar does not exactly line up with the one we use. The Hebrew month Nisan roughly corresponds with mid-March to mid-April on our calendar. In this month they celebrate the Passover and Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. The first month of the Hebrew religious year is the month Nisan.
b) The priests who served in the temple served after a pattern established by King David. According to 1 Chronicles 24, the descendants of Aaron were divided by David into twenty-four groups to serve tow roles – as governors of the sanctuary and governors of the house of God (1Chron. 24:5). Each group of priests served according to a schedule drawn up by casting lots (vs. 7-18).
It would seem from 2 Chronicles 23:8 that the priests served for a week at a time. This meant that each group knew when they were due to leave their homes and go to Jerusalem for their time of service. Each would serve twice a year, along with the mandatory feasts of Passover, Firstfruits and Tabernacles, when all the priests served. This would complete the entire year in their calendar.
c) Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, served in the eighth course.
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia [Abijah]: and his wife was the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
According to 1 Chronicles 24:10, the family of Abijah was assigned the eighth course. That meant that Abijah and his descendants after him would fulfill their duty to serve in the eighth and thirty-second turns. Because of how the feasts fell, this would be the ninth and thirty-fifth weeks of the year. As a descendant of Abijah, Zacharias would have served in the temple in these two weeks of the Hebrew calendar. They would fall in the spring and autumn on our calendar. Zacharias was fulfilling his normal term of service when the angel Gabriel appeared and told him he and Elisabeth were going to have a son.
d) If this was the second rotation for the year, Zacharias would have completed his service in the fall. The Bible tells us that Zacharias stayed and completed his normal duties in the temple before returning home (Luke 1:23). It was probably shortly after his return that Elisabeth conceived, as promised by the angel. The date for the conception of John the Baptist in this case would be the end of October. We are told that Elisabeth hid herself five months after conceiving John (vs. 24).
e) Gabriel appeared to Mary in the sixth month of Elisabeth’s pregnancy to announce the birth of Christ. The start of the sixth month of Elisabeth’s pregnancy would have probably been early spring. It was at that time that Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah. He also told her that her cousin Elisabeth was pregnant (vs 26-36).
f) Normal gestation for a human baby is nine months. If the angel Gabriel made his announcement to Mary sometime in the early spring, nine months from then would be early winter. We do not know for certain that Jesus was born on December 25, but a careful study of Scripture gives us good reason to believe that it could have been very close to that date.
g) The shepherds were in the field. Some have objected that shepherds would not have been in the fields at night in December. However, there was a field between Bethlehem and Jerusalem which was the location of the “tower of the flock” mentioned in Micah 4:8. Shepherds kept the spotless lambs chosen for temple sacrifice there year round. Since the verse comes just seven verses before the great Messianic prophecy of Christ’s birth in Micha 5:2, some believe this to be a prophecy of where the announcement was to be made, and that these special shepherds were the ones who heard the angels.
We have seen two separate verifications from the scriptural chronology and the testimony of history that Jesus could have been born around Christmas time. There are some people who honestly object to celebrating Christmas, but it is not legitimate for them to do so on the basis that Jesus could not have been born at that time. Certainly there are things associated with Christmas, especially here in America, that are of concern to all of us. Santa Claus is a fictional character about whom I believe you ought to tell your kids the truth. Don’t teach your children Santa Claus brings them presents. Why would you want some stranger to get the credit when you are the one who spends all the money? I never understood that. It is dangerous to build up falsehoods. If you lie to them about Santa Claus, eventually they’ll wonder if you lied to them about other things as well. The excessive materialism of our culture can easily overwhelm the meaning of Christmas; but if things are kept in their proper perspective, there is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of Christ.
THE CONSEQUENCES TAUGHT
Understand the truth about the birth of Christ from a careful study of the Word of God rather than accepting the traditions of what others say is important. From such study we not only learn the truth about Christmas, but we also learn much about the Bible and how God works as well.
THE BIBLE ADDS UP.
It is fascinating to me that I can take what the Bible gives me and arrive at a logical conclusion. Even if people hadn’t been celebrating Christ’s birth on December 25 for centuries, we would still have the shepherds in the fields with their lambs and the calendar calculations from Zacharias that would establish that as the time of year Christ was born. You could study the Bible for ten hours a day for the rest of your life and never run out of things to learn. God has given us a wonderful Book. If you find something that doesn’t seem to add up, it’s your adding, not the Bible’s numbers, that is at fault. If you don’t see how something in the Bible could be true, don’t assume that the Bible is wrong – it isn’t. Be patient and be attentive. Eventually somebody will figure it out. Skeptics used to criticize the Bible account of the birth of Christ because Luke talked about its being “when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.” They said Cyrenius wasn’t governor until years later. Then they dug a little deeper into the archaeological record, they found that twice Cyrenius had been governor of Syria. The first time he was governor was when Christ was born, and the second time was later. I have yet to see any published articles in any of the national news journals admitting that the skeptics were wrong and the Bible had been proven right; but the Bible record stands every test and challenge. People used to criticize the Bible because there was no evidence of the race called the Hittites. Through the years the archaeologists continued digging. Ultimately, they found ample proof of the existence of the Hittites. Given enough time, the scientific investigators will usually catch up with the Bible.
THE BIBLE HAS MUCH MORE TO TELL US THEN WE HAVE LEARNED.
Have you ever thought this way? “I’ve read the Bible so much, there’s nothing new for me to learn.” That’s wrong. I had a man tell me once, “I’ve been in church so long, there’s no sermon I haven’t heard. I’ve heard all the sermons there are to preach.” I said to him, “I haven’t even heard all of my sermons yet.”
We always have more to learn. I read the Bible through several times each year. Every two months, I read through the Old Testament. I do not discover deep and wonderful truths every day, but I’m always seeing things I had not seen before. For example, I preached a sermon once about Phinehas. He was Aaron’s grandson who stopped a plague by killing the Israelite who brought a Midianite woman into his tent (Num. 25:6-8). I mentioned in passing in the message that later in his life Phinehas made it into the Promised Land (Josh. 22:13). Someone came up to me after church and said that he must have been under twenty because all the men twenty years old and up died in the wilderness except Caleb and Joshua. I read more carefully and found that the death penalty pronounced on all the men twenty years and older did not apply to the Levites. They were not counted when the people were numbered (Num. 26:62,63). The Levites all got to go to the Promised Land, regardless of their age. It was there all the time in the Word of God. I just hadn’t seen it before.
THE BIBLE, THEREFORE, IS WORTHY OF OUR CAREFUL STUDY.
I believe you should read your Bible like a person who is mining for gold. I have a chunk of gold ore in my office that somebody gave me. Everything in that rock that looks like gold isn’t gold. The sparkly stuff is fool’s gold. The real gold looks more like rust. It would take fifteen tons of ore like the rock I have to get one ounce of pure gold. When you read the Bible for your personal devotions, look for gold. Don’t try to examine every rock. Don’t try to pulverize it and do a chemical analysis. Just look till you find some gold. Look for nuggets. Don’t get stuck on something that you don’t fully understand. H. A. Ironside was once asked, “What do you do with all the hard parts in the Bible?” He said, “I do the same thing I do when I’m eating fish. I put the bones on the side of the plate for someone else to choke on, and I eat the rest of the fish.”
When I’m having devotions, I don’t try to do in-depth analysis, but there should be times when we study in depth. When something arrests our attention, we should make a note of it so we can follow it up at a later time. We should study the Bible, just as we did with finding the timeline for the birth of Christ, until we come up with the answer. We’ll find fascinating and amazing truths as we carefully study the Word of God.
GOD’S TIMING IS PERFECT.
Isn’t it interesting that the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29) was born at the same time the lambs out in the field were being born? Paul said that Jesus was born “when the fullness of time was come” (Gal. 4:4). God never does anything accidentally. Bethlehem is only a few miles from Jerusalem. It’s very possible that the shepherds to whom the angels announced the birth of Christ were the same shepherds who kept the sheep for the temple to provide the lambs for sacrifices. The symbolism associated with the birth of Christ is very powerful. We can always count on God to work at exactly the right time in exactly the right way. One of the things that careful study of God’s Word does for us is to build our faith by showing us how God makes “every thing beautiful in his time” (Eccles. 3:11).
SO, WHAT NOW?
The Christmas season sure is a wonderful time of the year. There are so many songs about Jesus Christ, fun family traditions, sweets, and many opportunities to share our faith. With simple statements as “Merry Christmas,” or even “Happy Holidays.” it is so easy to bring up the meaning of Christmas. Jesus was not just a baby who was born in unusual circumstances. That’s just the beginning. He came to earth to die in our place, for our sins. He suffered as no other human would ever suffer, died a sinners death, spent three days and nights in the earth, then victoriously rose again! All those who put their faith in Him for salvation would have their sins paid for on His cross, and the salvation that He provides in their account. What a message to share!
This Christmas season, keep yourself loaded with Gospel tracts and be on the lookout for someone to share the true Christmas message with! Someone once said, “You can’t take the Gospel to the wrong address.”