The Unnecessary Christmas Controversy:
This was not a big issue when I was a Pastor in rural Texas. But since being overseas where people from all walks of life, backgrounds and religious influence converge, I often am put in the position to take a position on certain topics.
One of those topics is that of Christmas. It is my favorite time of year. I am a Christmas buff. I love the music, the smells, the food, the feeling, the childhood memories of it. Most of all, I love the message:
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelled among us…” John 1:14
There are those who have approached me with very strong opinions that we as Christians should have nothing to do with Christmas. The argument is that most of the traditions are of pagan origin, and that Jesus was not born December 25th.
Some have drawn a line in the sand so deeply, that they have a blanket condemnation on all who observe Christmas, and they make it their mission to either educate, convert, or condemn the Christian who observes Christmas.
It should be pointed out that the overwhelming majority of Christians observe Christmas around the world, in every denomination, in every nation without forfeiting their salvation, productivity, or their blessings.
My position: IT IS AN UNNECESSARY CONTROVERSY THAT SHOULD BE LEFT TO THE CONSCIENCE OF EACH BELIEVER
Here is why:
THE BIRTH DATE of Christ:
It is 99.9% most likely that Jesus was not born on December 25th.
(Though early church fathers have a pretty convincing Biblical approach to His birth being in December)
The amazing message: That His virgin birth was foretold. That He coming first as a babe born in Bethlehem, that He was God Incarnate, the Creator of the World, that His birth was in response to God’s profound love for the world, is worth taking time out reflect and celebrate.
If men seized the time of December to pause, reflect and celebrate this amazing gospel truth, so what?
Sure, this message should not be for just once a year. But as a Pastor, I have never relegated it to just once per year. I preach elements of this message all year long, as do most Pastors I know.
What is amazing is that people get caught up in a debate over a date on the calendar. What does the scripture say about it?
The observance of days, feast, and festivals should not be a legalistic thing:
“16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. ” Colossians 2:16-17
The observance of a special day or not to observe is a matter of conscience:
“5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord;[a]and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.” Romans 14:5-6
I observe Christmas, to the Lord. Others choose to not observe a day to celebrate His birth. I am fully convinced in my mind. The instruction is that we not turn these things into disputes, or a matter of judging one another. THAT is the real teaching concerning the observance of special days, and feast.
Calendars are a human invention. Especially the calendar we observe in the West. To think that the Timeless God, the God who lives outside of the confines of time and space, is pulled down into the petty disputes of dates and times among men is to not fully understand a sovereign God.
Do elements of the Christmas season have their root in paganism? Yes.
As do much of the etymology of many words we use every day,. (think twice before using the word “fortunately” lest you find yourself giving credit to the goddess Fortunas), as does the names of the days of the week, and the months of the year, as do also other common days we like to give attention to: Valentines, etc…
One thing is for sure. THE MESSAGE of the Christian observance of Christmas is the foundation of the gospel message to the world!
Fact: most people who observe Christmas, have no clue whatsoever of the origins of say, Christmas trees, or other Christmas traditions. It is not a stretch to say that no Christian in the modern age practices ANY Christmas tradition in homage to ancient pagan beliefs that are thousands of years removed from the modern tradition.
Does the Bible give us New Testament guidance in how we should treat and respond to the paganism around us? Paul did to the Corinthians.
The Corinthians were Christians surrounded by paganism and idolatry. It was almost impossible to escape the influence around them.
Even food bought in the market often was food that was first offered as offerings to idols in the pagan temples, then sold as a profit that funded the pagan temples.
There were people in the Corinthian church who made a big issue over Christians purchasing this food, and eating it since it had been used in pagan worship.
Paul gives a guiding principle:
Pagan idols are to gods that do not exist…thus are of no account to the Christian.
“4 Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one.” I Cor. 8:4
In other words…we know there is only One God. Idols are man made, lifeless, and not gods at all, thus the eating of the food that had been offered to them was not honoring any god…because no other God existed.
Christians with this knowledge could partake with a clear conscience.
Just as we know that whatever pagan gods of centuries past were honored with traditions were not gods at all…in truth…these ancient pagans have passed away…but God is the God of the nations, the One known to the World….long after these pantheistic idols and gods have passed away and forgotten in history.
IT WAS ONLY THOSE WEAK IN THE FAITH that stumbled over this issue. Paul writes:
“9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? ” I Corinthians 8:9-10
In other words, if someone who was not strong and settled in their faith thinks that you eating food once offered to pagan idols is a confirmation that these idols are valid and to be worshiped…then don’t eat in front of the weak.
This liberty Paul gave to the Corinthians most certainly applies to traditions, removed from paganism by centuries, since we the Church know that those idols and gods were nothing…not gods at all…no power, no substance, no reality. Only Our God, and the message of His Only Begotten…that is real…that is Truth.
Observing Christmas today, is not in danger of plunging anyone who is weak into idol worship or following false gods. My observance does not lead anyone to worship the goddess Diana or depart from the True God. On the contrary, my observance of Christmas is one of the few times in the year that I have the eyes and ears of the world, to freely tell them the gospel message. I preach the Incarnate Word!
Which leads to my third point:
Using Christmas to Preach the Gospel:
Jesus taught us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
Paul also claimed to become all things to all men for the purpose of winning men to Christ.
Paul applied amazing wisdom, when he used a PAGAN ALTAR in a pagan country as an illustrative foundation to preach Christ!
“for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you” Acts 17:23
Surrounded by Greek temples to multiple gods, Paul sees an altar, built by pagans, pagan offerings offered on it by pagans, and part of the pagan society and culture he was a missionary to….but He seizes the moment to preach Jesus!
He did not endorse paganism. In fact, he tells them that up to this point they in their pagan ignorance had built this altar.
Paul takes the ignorance of paganism…and uses it to present Christ!
How do we not see, that if there is ever a time of year people are open, and somewhat willing to hear about Jesus it is at Christmas time?
If we were wise as serpents….we would ignore the ignorance of how the secular world approaches Christmas, and instead turn it around by preaching the amazing message that unto us, A Child was born, unto us a Son was given, …this child called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father….born miraculously of a virgin…fulfilling the plan of redemption by becoming the perfect Lamb that would go to the cross!
Really? Shall we instead become contentious…become the party of “do not”, and be the finger pointing party of division and controversy?
Or, shall we use the wisdom of Paul, and use this platform called Christmas to be lights?
Lights, or wet blankets, the choice is ours.