Christmas is one of the great celebrations of the year. Trees go up, ridiculous amounts of money are spent, gifts are shared, food and drink consumed as family and friends gather together in a joyous occasion. There’s so much love and joy in the air that even Michael Buble’ and Mariah Carey are allowed to be played on the open air. However Christmas can also be a time of war. A wave of online debates begins between Christians with regard to the nature of Christmas. Is it a secular or sacred holiday? And should Christians participate in something that has pagan roots? The debate sometimes goes even further as some overly precious Christians feel they have the monopoly on Christmas voicing their displeasure that the secular culture doesn’t put enough Christ in Christmas. So which is it? Is Christmas secular or sacred and how should we interact with it as Christians.
In a previous post on Halloween (http://wp.me/p1gDan-oO) I highlighted a filter we use as a Christian family to help determine how we interact within our secular culture. The same can be used for Christmas. Do we receive it? Do we reject it? Or do we redeem it? I’ll use the same outline for Christmas.
Those who reject Christmas often do so with a desire towards obedience and devotion to God not culture. They seek to avoid entanglement to the so-called pagan roots of Christmas. This should be commended not ridiculed. Even if you disagree with the premise, the motivation can be right. The argument is made that since the Bible doesn’t instruct us to celebrate Christ’s birth nor is the date of his birth definitive Christians should therefore reject Christmas.
While I sympathise with this position I do not necessarily hold to it. Let me ask a series of questions in order clarify why. What cultural days do you participate in that the Bible doesn’t prescribe? Do you celebrate Australia Day? Anzac Day? Father’s or Mother’s Day? Thanksgiving? Festivus? My guess is you do. Ah but Christmas began as a pagan holiday and we are forbidden in scripture from participating in pagan practices? I’ll show why I believe this claim to be misplaced a little later. But again lets ask some further questions. Do you sing along to secular music? Have you ever attended a Coldplay concert? Are these secular or sacred? So before we reject Christmas entirely because of its so-called pagan roots lets consider what other paganisms we may already be participating in.
I meet people in café’s all the time. I’m yet to meet the Christian who refuses to meet with me on a Thursday because it’s Thor’s Day. In Norse mythology Thor is the deity of thunder and the eldest son of Odin, ruler of the God’s. He had a magic hammer and thunder was supposed to be the sound of the rolling of his chariot. It is called ‘yom chamiyshiy in Ibriy’, meaning “fifth day” or “day five.” What about the other days of the week? Sunday (day of the sun); Monday (day of the moon); Tuesday (Tyr’s Day), named for the Norse god of war; Wednesday (Woden’s day), named to honour Odin, or Woden, chief deity in Norse mythology; Friday (Frigg’s day) is named for Frigg or Frigga the female deity of the sky and wife of Odin, the chief of the deities; Saturday (Saturn’s day). Let’s continue…
What about a wedding ring? The ancient Romans believed that a vein ran from the ‘digitus Annula’ris’ or ring finger to the heart. The ring was a way of putting a chain on one’s heart. Have you ever blown out birthday candles? ‘No don’t tell me.’ Yep. Pagan. Sorry. People would seek a necromancer who could tell one’s fortune from the pattern of smoke after blowing out the candles. Let’s just admit that there are many aspects of the culture in which we find ourselves that has pagan roots. So it’s a little more complicated than just rejecting whatever is pagan. If you’re going to reject Christmas because of it’s pagan roots then I applaud your devotion and likewise encourage you to be consistent. And maybe the question isn’t what did it mean then, but what does it mean now?
Those who reject Christmas often make the claim that those who receive it simply do so in ignorance. While this can be true for some it certainly isn’t for everyone. So should we receive Christmas? Well it depends I guess. Which Christmas? We live in a context where there really are two different Christmas’. What was once a largely Christian country is now essentially post-Christian. So while Christmas still exists as a holiday, it doesn’t exist as a purely Christian one. Shock horror it’s secular. This is only a problem for those Christians who expect those non-Christians to act like a Christian. We’ve got to keep Christ in Christmas they say. This is true, but only for the Christian. A non-Christian doesn’t believe in Christ but they do believe in family and friends. They do believe in celebrating. That’s what Christmas is for them and these are good things. Let’s stop expecting those that aren’t Christians to act as such.
As for the Christian there can be two common problems with Christmas. 1) For some, Christmas (and Easter) is the time of year to give Christ a token thought. Then they go on forgetting him the other 363 days of the year 2) for others, Christ just gets replaced. Santa and other secular aspects of Christmas take the prominent focus. Both are errors. For the Christian we should seek to celebrate and worship Christ at every possible opportunity not just couple days a year.
‘I can’t think of anything more pleasing to Christ than the church celebrating His birthday every year…While the New Testament doesn’t require that we celebrate Christmas every year, I certainly see nothing wrong with the church’s entering into this joyous time of celebrating the Incarnation, which is the dividing point of all human history.’ R.C Sproul
As a family we have chosen to neither reject nor receive Christmas. Rather we seek to redeem it. For us there are some untenable aspects of Christmas in our secular culture. For example we have chosen to reject Santa. We have explained to our children the truth about Santa and ask them to not ruin it for all the other kids. So far so good on this one. We felt that we in good conscience could not lie to our children about Santa (Easter bunny, tooth fairy etc). We also felt that the spirit of Santa is the antithesis of Christ and the gospel, the very heart of Christmas. Unlike Santa, God loves you and gives to you even when you don’t deserve it. Unlike Santa, God isn’t checking his sin list twice over to see if you’ve been naughty or nice. Rather Christ came and lived a perfect life on your behalf because he knew you couldn’t always be nice. Jesus offers you a better gift than Santa ever could in that he offers you forgiveness and true eternal life.
As a whole however we seek to redeem Christmas. We seek to make Christmas as sacred as we can. We put up a tree (secular) and seek to use the tree to remind our children that one day this baby Christ would choose to die on a tree for our transgressions (sacred). We give gifts (secular) with the intention of reflecting God’s nature (sacred) as he gave himself to the world in love (Jn. 3:16). We seek to redeem Christmas because it is the very position from which Christmas arose. When the ‘Rejecters’ state that Christmas has its roots in paganism they are claiming that it is secular and not sacred. But I’m not sure this is exactly accurate.
The 25th of December was the final day of a weeklong celebration within the Roman Empire. During this celebration they worshipped secular and pagan gods such as Mithras. Christians within the Roman Empire were devoted to Christ and in good conscience rejected participation in the festivities. They could not worship their gods. Rather than just reject this celebration outright they chose to redeem the day. Rather than remaining in their homes avoiding the secular culture they decided to celebrate something that was essential to their faith. They began to celebrate what C. S. Lewis calls ‘the grandest miracle of all time’ the incarnation of God, the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas was birthed out of a pagan context but it was not pagan. It was Christian. Christians decided to redeem a date, 25th of December and honour the birth of our saviour, not Mithras or any other pagan God. Christmas was sacred not secular.
Now the Christian Christmas has certainly been overtaken by secularism and consumerism. However we must remember that we live in a secular context. Do we really need to get our nickers in a knot when Westfield put up ‘Happy Holidays’ rather than Merry Christmas? The early Christians within the Roman Empire did not expect the Romans to participate in Christmas as they did. They expected them to continue to celebrate their own way. Rather they chose to lift up Christ and use the celebration as an opportunity to share about Christ being the true and living God-man that came into the world in order to redeem the world. They used Christmas as a means of contrasting Christ with their false gods. As my good friend Adam Ramsey noted in his post (https://adamramsey.org/2013/12/18/3-tips-for-sharing-jesus-with-others-this-christmas/) rather than blowing Santa up why don’t we do the same as the Christians in the secular Roman context and use the opportunity to contrast Santa with Christ.
If you’re not a Christian may I apologise to you for expecting you to act as a Christian. May I also wish you a merry Christmas and encourage you to consider the Christian perspective of Christmas this year. If you are a Christian may I likewise wish you a merry Christmas and encourage you to consider the words of the Spurge!!!
“Remember, young believers, that from the first moment when Christ did lie in the cradle until the time when he ascended up on high, he was at work for his people; and from the moment when he was seen in Mary’s arms, till the instant when in the arms of death he bowed his head and gave up the ghost, he was at work for your salvation and mine…You have as much to thank Christ for living as for dying, and you should be as reverently and devoutly grateful for his spotless life as for his terrible and fearful death.” Charles Spurgeon (A Treasury of Spurgeon on the Life and Work of Our Lord, Volume II, 216).
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!!