Christmas Reformation Long Overdue
In these latter years of the twentieth century no other season of the year reveals so much religion and so little godliness as the Christmas season.
Since Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, scarcely anyone dares to come right out and say what he thinks of Christmas. To do so, we fear, would be to identify ourselves with a nasty old grouch who hated everybody; so we go along with the tinseled festivities, doing our best to preserve a misty smile on our faces and a happy, vibrant ring in our voices, no matter how we feel.
Now, Dickens to the contrary notwithstanding, I do not believe that we are compelled to choose between old Scrooge and Tiny Tim. Surely there is a middle ground where mature, love-inspired, Spirit-illuminated adults can locate themselves and make up their own minds about that most beautiful but most abused and abased holiday we call Christmas. I for one want to do just that and love everybody in the process.
I never knew an Ebenezer Scrooge. My own childhood was brightened by the annual return of Christmas. My sweet-faced mother struggled to provide a few extras for her family on Christmas morning and somehow she always succeeded. If there was no more than an orange, a popcorn ball and a cheap toy for each of us, it was yet a memorable time for all. Even the old yellow mongrel that lay on the homemade braided rug was on that happy morning treated to a handful of hard candy which he crunched loudly and solemnly to the squealing of delight of the younger children.
The children that later came to my own home could, and I am sure would, testify to the almost unbearable delight Christmas morning brought to them. Their near delirium as they tumbled out of bed and gathered around the tree to unwrap their gifts amid shouts of surprise and delight will never be forgotten by them or by their parents while life and memory endure. No, whoever else might drop in during the day, Scrooge was never there; he�d have died of apoplexy if he had come near the place.
Yet Christmas as it is celebrated today is badly in need of a radical reformation. What was at first a spontaneous expression of an innocent pleasure has been carried to inordinate excess. In one section of Chicago, for instance, the excited citizenry vie with each other each year for the biggest, gaudiest and most vulgar Christmas tree, on the porch, on the lawn, along the street; and one gigantic, flashily dressed and cold but determinedly smiling Santa Claus drives a fully lighted herd of reindeer across the yard and over the house!
How far have we come in the corruption of our tastes from the reverence of the simple shepherds, the chant of the angels and the beauty of the heavenly host! The Star of Bethlehem could not lead a wise man to Christ today; it could not be distinguished amid the millions of artificial lights hung aloft on Main Street by the Merchants Association. No angels could sing loudly enough to make themselves heard above the raucous, earsplitting rendition of �Silent Night� meant to draw customers to the neighborhood stores.
In our mad materialism we have turned beauty into ashes, prostituted every normal emotion and made merchandise of the holiest gift the world ever knew. Christ came to bring peace and we celebrate His coming by making peace impossible for six weeks of each year. Not peace but tension, fatigue and irritation rule the Christmas season.
He came to free us of debt and many respond by going deep into debt each year to buy enervating luxuries for people who do not appreciate them. He came to help the poor and we heap gifts upon those who do not need them. The simple token given out of love has been displaced by expensive presents given because we have been caught in a squeeze and don�t know how to back out of it. Not the beauty of the Lord our God is found in such a situation, but the ugliness and deformity of human sin.
Among the harmful abuses of the Christmas season in America is the substitution of Santa Claus for Christ as the chief object of popular interest, especially among the children.
The morality of Mother Goose stories and fairy tales has been questioned by serious-minded Christian parents, but my opinion is that these are relatively harmless because they are told as fiction and the child is fully aware that they are imaginary. With Santa Claus it is not so. The child is taught falsehood as sober truth and is thus grossly deceived during the most sensitive and formative period of his life.
What shall we do? Cultivate humility and frugality. Put the emphasis where the Bible puts it, on the Christ at the right hand of God, not on the babe in the manger. Return to the simplicity that is in Christ. Cleanse our churches of the unscriptural pageantry borrowed from Rome. Take the Scriptures as our guide and refuse to be pressured into conformity to paganism practiced in the name of Christ.
EVERYWHERE, EVERYWHERE, CHRISTMAS TONIGHT!�
That there were in the world multiplied millions who had never heard of Christmas did not matter to our poet for the purpose of his poem. He was expressing an emotional fact, not a statistical one.
Throughout the Western world we tend to follow the poet and approach Christmas emotionally instead of factually. It is the romance of Christmas that gives it its extraordinary appeal to that relatively small number of persons of the earth�s population who regularly celebrate it.
So completely are we carried away by the excitement of this midwinter festival that we are apt to forget that its romantic appeal is the least significant thing about it. The theology of Christmas too easily gets lost under the gay wrappings, yet apart from its theological meaning it really has none at all. A half dozen doctrinally sound carols serve to keep alive the great deep truth of the Incarnation, but aside from these, popular Christmas music is void of any real lasting truth. The English mouse that was not even stirring, the German Tannenbaum so fair and lovely and the American red-nosed reindeer that has nothing to recommend it have pretty well taken over in Christmas poetry and song. These along with merry old St. Nicholas have about displaced Christian theology.
We must not forget that the Church is the custodian of a truth so grave and urgent that its importance can not be overemphasized, and so vast and incomprehensible that even an apostle did not try to explain it; rather it burst forth from him as an astonished exclamation:
Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations;
was believed on in the world,
(1 Timothy 3:16)
This is what the Church is trying to say to mankind but her voice these days is thin and weak and scarcely heard amid the commercialized clangor of �Silent Night.�
It does seem strange that so many persons become excited about Christmas and so few stop to inquire into its meaning; but I suppose this odd phenomenon is quite in harmony with our unfortunate human habit of magnifying trivialities and ignoring matters of greatest import. The same man who will check his tires and consult his road map with utmost care before starting on a journey may travel for a lifetime on the way that knows no return and never once pause to ask whether or not he is headed in the right direction.
The Christmas message, when stripped of its pagan overtones, is relatively simple: God is come to earth in the form of man. Around this one dogma the whole question of meaning revolves. God did come or He did not; He is come or He is not, and the vast accumulation of sentimental notions and romantic practices that go to make up our modern Christmas cannot give evidence on one side or the other.
Certain religious teachers in apostolic times refused to believe that Jesus was actually God come in the flesh. They were willing to exhaust the language of unctuous flattery to describe His glorious manhood, but they would have none of His deity. Their basic philosophy forbade them to believe that there could ever be a union of God and human flesh.Matter, they said, is essentially evil. God who is impeccably holy could never allow Himself contact with evil. Human flesh is matter, therefore God is not come in the flesh.
Certainly it would not be difficult to refute this negative teaching. One would only need to demonstrate the error of the major premise, the essential sinfulness of matter, and the whole thing would collapse. But that would be to match reason against reason and take the mystery of godliness out of the realm of faith and make of it merely another religious philosophy. Then we would have rationalism with a thin Christian veneer. How long before the veneer wore off and we had only rationalism?
While faith contains an element of reason, it is essentially moral rather than intellectual. In the New Testament unbelief is a sin, and this could not be so if belief were no more than a verdict based upon evidence. There is nothing unreasonable about the Christian message, but its appeal is not primarily to reason. At a specific time in a certain place God became flesh, but the transcendence of Christ over the human conscience is not historic; it is intimate, direct and personal.
Christ�s coming to Bethlehem�s manger was in harmony with the primary fact of His secret presence in the world in preincarnate times as the Light that lighteth every man. The sum of the New Testament teaching about this is that Christ�s claims are self-validating and will be rejected only by those who love evil. Whenever Christ is preached in the power of the Spirit, a judgment seat is erected and each hearer stands to be judged by his response to the message. His moral responsibility is not to a lesson in religious history but to the divine Person who now confronts him.
�Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight.� But Christmas either means more than is popularly supposed or it means nothing.
We had better decide.
There are many different thoughts on celebrating Christmas, and I find it something that seems to bring conflict to many who follow Christ! While many believe that practicing what originally began as a pagan celebration is wrong, the fact is that Christians turned it into a day to celebrate the birth of Christ. Others find it wrong that we celebrate birth at all. The birthday was not something that was celebrated by early Jews.
We are not instructed in the Bible to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but it is notable that the birth was noted in the Bible itself with the honoring of the baby by Angels declaring His birth, by Wise Men looking for Him and bringing gifts to celebrate His coming and recognizing the importance of His future Kingship. The gospels do not give us a date of His birth, and yet they do emphasize the importance of His birth. Without His birth, we have nothing. He had to come to earth as a human to fulfill the prophecy and give the sacrifice. It stands to reason that His birth is one of the most important days in history. And while we are also told to celebrate death over birth, without the birth, you can not have the death.
As for the fact that Christmas itself began as a pagan holiday, people ceased to associate the day with the worship of a pagan god and began to associate it with the birth of the Savior of the world. For ministry, is that not what we want? For people to disregard pagans and remember Christ’s coming?
One of the biggest problems with modern day followers of Christ is that all to often the celebration becomes more about themselves than it is about Christ. We don’t truly celebrate the birth of Jesus so much as we take the opportunity to party and feed our own desires, whether with food, friends, presents or other indulgences. Do we really spend enough time in reflection on the reason for His birth and thanksgiving for it?
While we may or may not agree on whether we should celebrate Christmas, I decided that I would include a few others thoughts on that very thing. God bless!
“Christmas now means that we mark, in Christian ways, the birth of Jesus Christ. I think the birth, death and resurrection of Christ are the most important events in human history. Not to mark them in some way, by way of special celebration, would be folly it seems to me.” From: Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? John Piper
Charles H. Spurgeon on Christmas from Founders Ministries Blog:
He had little patience with his Protestant brethren who made much of the day out of religious devotion. Yet, Spurgeon was far from a Scrooge. Nor did he think it some violation of Scripture to utilize the inevitable emphasis of the season to preach the incarnate Christ. So it is easy to find sermons on the birth of Christ that he preached around Christmas time.
In December of 1855 he preached on “The Incarnation and Birth of Christ” from Micah 5:2. His opening words were these:
THIS is the season of the year when, whether we wish it or not, we are compelled to think of the birth of Christ. I hold it to be one of the greatest absurdities under heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas-day. There are no probabilities whatever that our Savior Jesus Christ was born on that day and the observance of it is purely of Popish origin; doubtless those who are Catholics have a right to hallow it, but I do not see how consistent Protestants can account it in the least sacred. However, I wish there were ten or a dozen Christmas-days in the year; for there is work enough in the world, and a little more rest would not hurt laboring people. Christmas-day is really a boon to us, particularly as it enables us to assemble round the family hearth and meet our friends once more. Still, although we do not fall exactly in the track of other people, I see no harm in thinking of the incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus. We do not wish to be classed with those“Who with more care keep holiday
The wrong, than others the right way.”
By Paul Ravenhill
300 years after Jesus’ death the church set December 25th as the day of commemoration and celebration of His birth.
Was Jesus born December 25th?… Possibly not!
Does the exact date matter? I don’t think so! Some people have a problem with December 25th because it was the date of the heathen celebration of the mid-winter festival. As Studdert-Kennedy (to whom I am indebted for his notes which lay the basis for this writing) has pointed out, for the heathen it was based in a time of dread
(dread of the winter cold which had taken the life from the trees and plants and
touched the waters and the fields with frost,
dread of the darkness which had taken over a greater portion of every day,
dread of the scarcity the uncertainty, the unrelenting attack of winter) from this fear was born the custom of lighting fires and burning logs to “warm up the sun” lest he flicker out and die and never rise again….. Read the rest at Christmas
By Paul Ravenhill
From Billy Graham
“I don’t think we ought to stop celebrating Christmas, but I do agree that we’ve lost sight of its true meaning. All too often, I’m afraid, we have left Christ out of Christmas, and yet (as the popular saying goes) He truly is “the reason for the season.”
Instead of focusing on what Christmas has become, however, let’s focus instead on what it can become for us, no matter what others do. Christmas celebrates the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, which set in motion the greatest event in human history. What better time to stop and reflect on what God did for us by sending His only Son into the world?
Why is Christmas important? It’s important first of all because it reminds us of our greatest need: to be forgiven of our sins and reconciled to the God who created us. If we could solve this need by ourselves, Christ wouldn’t have had to leave heaven’s glory and come to earth. But He did — because God loves us, and He wants us to know Him and spend eternity with Him.
Christmas reminds us too of what God has done for us. We could never save ourselves — but Christ came to save us by His death and resurrection. Make Christ the center of your Christmas this year — and then you’ll begin to understand the greatness of God’s gift to us that first Christmas. As the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23)”. Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
From A.W. Pink:
To you the Word of the Lord is, “Be THOU AN EXAMPLE of believers in word, in deportment, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). Is it not true that the most corrupt “churches” you know of, where almost every fundamental of the faith is denied, will have their “Christmas celebrations?” Will you imitate them? Are you consistent to protest against unscriptural methods of “raising money,” and then to sanction unscriptural “Christmas services?” Seek grace to firmly but lovingly set God’s truth on this subject before your people, and announce that you can have no part in following Pagan, Romish, and worldly customs.
1 Corinthians 15
King James Version (KJV)
15 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.
9 For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
11 Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.
12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.
28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
29 Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?
30 And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?
31 I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.
32 If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.
33 Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.
34 Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.
35 But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?
36 Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:
37 And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:
38 But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.
40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.
47 The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven.
48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.
49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.