One of the ironies of the Christmas season is the fact that it is not attacked just by atheists and skeptics who view it as an attempt to force religion on the population, but it is also attacked by conservative Christians. Their attack has to do with the historical implications of celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25. Their complaints revolve around the fact that Jesus almost certainly was not born in December, that the celebration is not taught in the Bible by command or example, and that the date almost certainly had something to do with pagan observations of the winter solstice. When you add to that the local unbiblical cultural activities and the commercialization of the holiday, there is a wealth of material to support negative sermons about the Christmas celebration.
All of these objections by both atheists and conservative Christians are inconsistent. I have never heard an atheist complain about the civil rights movement because it promoted religion. The leaders of the civil rights movement were, for the most part, religious leaders who invoked God in their speeches and actions. Most of the religious conservatives who oppose Christmas do not complain about church potluck dinners, which could be objected to the same basis as objections to Christmas.
I would suggest to the reader that Christmas is important, and in no way compromises faith in God or the Bible as his Word. It is difficult to read Paul's writings in Romans 14 and not see that this is what Paul would say about the issue of Christmas. Paul writes “One man considers some days to be more sacred than others while another considers all days to be alike. On questions of this kind, everyone must decide for himself. The man who values a particular day does it in the Lord's honor and he that does not regard the day, to the Lord he does not regard it” (verses 5 – 6). Later in the chapter, Paul gives a general principle of our conduct. “Do not let what is right for you become a matter of reproach, for the Kingdom of God does not consist in eating and drinking, but of righteousness and peace and gladness through the presence of the Holy Spirit. He who serves Christ in this way pleases God, and wins the approval of his fellow man. Let us, therefore, keep before us whatever will contribute to peace and the things which belong to the upbuilding one of another” (verses 16 – 19).
Let us consider on an intuitive level why the Christmas season is important to us. We all know that the season allows commercialization and greed to be expressed in bizarre ways, but consider the following positive things about the season.
THE CHRISTMAS SEASON IS A CATALYST FOR ARTISTIC EXPRESSION.
The Christmas season has brought to all of human culture wonderful artistic, and musical expressions. The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci painted in 1495 is based on John 13:21. Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam painted between 1508 and 1512 brings us a unique display of a talent inspired by his faith. The Messiah and especially the “Hallelujah Chorus” composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel is unquestionably one of the greatest compositions ever made by anyone. Johann Sebastian Bach in 1734 composed Christmas Oratorio including Epiphany, which certainly was one of his greatest compositions. Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843 which is one of the great Christmas stories of all time. In modern times we have had literally hundreds of great songs, great stories, and great artworks inspired by the season.
THE CHRISTMAS SEASON MOVES US TO GIVE, WHICH BRINGS US JOY.
As an adult, what brings me the most joy in the holiday season? Is it some gift that I get from someone? I can promise you that my greatest joy is being able to bring gifts to my grandchildren that excites them and which I can see them enjoying through the year. It is an emotional time for me when I see someone in my community get a gift that comes when they have had a terrible year. Our local radio stations and civic groups regularly seek out opportunities during the holiday season to give to a person who has had a string of bad luck or has been victimized by things beyond their control. Paul in Acts 20:35 tells us of a statement of Christ that is not in the gospels, “There is a greater blessing in giving than receiving.” While it is true that we should be giving all year long, Christmas brings people together regardless of their belief or lack of belief to meet real needs and enjoy the blessing that Jesus was speaking about.
THE CHRISTMAS SEASON IS A CATALYST FOR UNITY.
The unity brought about by giving to meet needs is also promoted by the Christmas season. Jesus prayed for unity (John 17:11 – 23), and Christmas can be a time for forgiveness and giving that brings the unity for which Jesus prayed. One of the great stories of the past involves a Christmas when from the German lines during combat there came the singing of “Silent Night.” On the Allied side, the song was picked up and soon both sides were singing the great Christmas carol. The story says that soldiers on both sides stood up without their guns and walked towards each other sharing their common beliefs about the season. The spirit of unity became so strong that the military leaders on both sides panicked and broke up the meeting. Whether the story is true or not, there is no question that followers of Jesus are more likely to be united when celebrating an event which emphasizes God’s love for us, and those things that we have in common.
THE CHRISTMAS SEASON IS A REMINDER OF THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY.
We all know Christmas songs that emphasize the value of family. “I'll Be Home for Christmas” probably tops the list. Most of us have some melancholy about Christmases in the past. Christmas is a time of security and love. In our world of chaos and change, Christmas brings back a memory of more peaceful times. Christmas reminds us that our roots give us a recognition of who we are and what our lives have been built on.
THE CHRISTMAS SEASON IS A CURE FOR MIDWINTER DEPRESSION.
Critics of the celebration of Christmas have correctly pointed out that pagans before Christ had a celebration of the shortest day of the year. They celebrated by feasting, giving gifts, and meeting with friends and family to give encouragement during the long winter. Living here in Michigan where the winter can seem to go on forever, it is easy to understand “midwinter depression.” The fact that pagans combated that with a special celebration on the shortest day of the year does not mean it was wrong or destructive. To remember a special spiritual event at a time of feasting and celebrating adds a spiritual dimension to combating depression. Our society has invented special days to meet the needs of society, including Memorial Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Grandparents Day, Valentines Day, Veterans Day, etc. If Christmas carols, stories, and giving can encourage and uplift us, as Paul says in Romans 13, “do it to the Lord.”
THE CHRISTMAS SEASON IS A CATALYST FOR GRATITUDE.
Christians are instructed to have an attitude of gratitude. We are told, “… in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). “Devote yourselves to prayer and be both alert and thankful as you pray” (Colossians 4:2). “I am urging that supplications, prayers, petitions and thanksgivings should be offered for all mankind” (1 Timothy 2:1).
The Christmas season seems to be the time when more prayers are offered for humanity than any other time of year. Perhaps we better realize our own affluence when we see what we and others can buy and then turn on our televisions and see what people in other parts of the world are having to deal with. We have to be overwhelmed with the question of why we are so blessed. It should be easy to realize this at any time of year, but the celebration of the birth of Christ seems to bring us face to face with the source of our blessings.
THE CHRISTMAS SEASON REMINDS US THAT
GOD CARES ENOUGH ABOUT US TO BECOME A MAN.
John 1 reminds us that God came to Earth. Verse 14 tells us plainly, “The Word became flesh and came to dwell among us in the splendor as of a father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” The first ten verses of John 1 remind us that Jesus was involved in the creation, and Colossians 1:12 – 17 reinforces that concept. John 3:16 tells us that God's love is what prompted this act which blessed us in such an incredible way. The emphasis on manger scenes and stories about Mary and Joseph remind us of the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus in humble surroundings. The really incredible part of the story is that “God became flesh and dwelt among us.”
The purpose of human existence is a question that the secular world likes to debate over and over. Atheism has no answer, and man-made religions give answers that do not make sense, such as suggesting that God was lonely or bored. The Christmas story should remind us that God does not do anything in vain. “For the Lord who created the heavens says that God himself created the earth and made it; he established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited” (Isaiah 45:18). Ephesians 3:9 – 11 tells us, “From the beginning of the world this mystery has been hidden away in God who created all things, so that the archangels and to all the powers on high should now see the complex wisdom of God’s plan being worked out through the church in accordance with that purpose which runs through all the ages and which he has now accomplished in Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 6:12 tells us that this purpose is not involved with flesh and blood “but against all the various powers of evil that hold sway in the darkness around us, and against huge numbers of wicked spirits in the spirit world.”
There is a war going on and the enemy uses spiritual terrorism. We were created to be participants in that war. Job 1 and 2 give us a quick glance at that war. We are Job (or Jobette) in the twenty-first century. Our lives are full of purpose and meaning because we are part of an eternal struggle that makes anything Stephen King dreamed up fade into insignificance. The Christmas season reminds us that evil is real and that we have a role in defeating it. As we immerse ourselves in the Christmas holiday, we should be able to understand Job's conclusion of all that happened to him, “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5).
Biblical quotes from The New Testament From 26 Translations, Curtis Vaughn Editor, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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