By Nathan Jones
"Well, that's a no-brainer," you're probably thinking. "Of course Christians should celebrate Christmas. Christmas and Christians go together like those little curly shoes on an elf. They're inseparable!" And yet, the deluge of email this ministry receives around this jolly season is resplendent with believers who are struggling with the origins of Christmas. They really want to know if they are pleasing Jesus, or in actuality are worshiping a false god, truly something to be concerned about.
I read a book called Fossilized Customs about the origins of Christmas and found the inception and the symbols we use in its celebration very interesting. The author contended that since there are many former pagan elements used for Christmas, that we should no longer celebrate the holiday.
He claimed Christmas was a fabrication of the Roman Emperor Constantine who replaced the worship of the sun god Mithra on December 25th with the worship of Christ. He also pointed out that Christmas over the centuries has picked up many of its festivities from other cultures, like the exchanging of presents, the burning of a Yule log, decorating an evergreen tree, and featuring the medieval Dutch Sinterklaas (Santa Claus). And then, of course, there is today's full scale consumerism.
Should we then drop Christmas and Easter, and even Sunday worship, and go back to celebrating the Jewish feasts as some concerned Christians have resorted to? Well, let's not give up on Christmas just yet, though, for I think the author of that book missed the whole point of what it means to be a Christian living under God's grace.
What does this "living under grace" mean? Romans 8, Acts 15, and the whole book of Hebrews make it crystal clear that a definite transition occurred in how we obey God's moral law since Christ. It states that believers are free from the 613 laws given to Moses with their appointed feasts and ceremonial rituals, nay even the 10 Commandments. How could that possibly be? Because that old Law was just a pointer to what sin is. It couldn't cleanse because nobody could meet its standards. Instead, the Mosaic Law has been replaced with "love the Lord your God" and "love your neighbor as yourself" (Mk. 12:30-31).
For instance, take the Fourth Commandment about keeping the Sabbath. Because of God's principle of grace, it becomes not one day that we should set apart for the Lord, but every minute of every day. Do you see how grace frees us from the Mosaic Law and yet enables us to fulfill it through Jesus Christ?
We are now under "Christ's law" (1 Cor. 9:21), the "law that gives freedom" (Jms. 1:25; 2:12), and no longer under the "law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2). Bear in mind that we're not free to sin (Rom. 6:1-2), but because we are free to worship God in a relationship deeper than do's and don'ts, we can choose to celebrate certain holidays or not.
As to knowing that Christ's birthday was really in the Fall and not on December 25th, does which day really matter? Not to Paul, who in Romans 14 declared, "One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike... Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord." Living under grace gives us the freedom to give spiritual significance to any day we please, or not to do so, and, as Paul warns, we do not have the right to judge and condemn those who decide to give spiritual significance to different days.
And just because the Romans feasted and exchanged gifts during the festival of Saturnalia, does that negate Christians following the example of the Wise Men giving gifts to baby Jesus? Of course not! How many of you are thinking of Saturn in front of the plum pudding? No, you're thinking of Jesus.
Symbols have different meanings to different people. To a Christian, the rainbow symbolizes God's promise never to destroy the earth again with water. But in modern American society, it is a symbol of the Homosexual movement. Are we therefore to wash our hands of the Rainbow and surrender it to the devil? I don't think so.
The book's author missed the point that as Christians we can celebrate Christ's birth on December 25th and have a Christmas tree and all the festivities because we are honoring God. It's certainly okay then to celebrate Christmas because it's a time to remember Jesus' birth and kingship, looking forward to the time when He will return in victory to set up His Kingdom. Christmas, Easter, and the Lord's Day are times of worship and remembrance for the Church, and just because that grinch Satan has attempted to water down our honoring of God doesn't mean we just throw the whole act of worship away.
If Christmas is to you about celebrating our Savior, and you use the decorations and festivities for such a purpose, God knows that your heart and purposes are right with Him. For in reality, to a Christian, every day should be a celebration of Jesus Christ.
"For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen." - Romans 11:36