Why Celebrate Christmas?

Title: Why Celebrate Christmas?

Text: Joshua 4:4-7, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Romans 14:5-6

Time: December 25th, 2011

 

 

Today is Christmas and millions around the world are remembering the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. It’s a unique Sunday because Christmas falls on a Sunday. Some large churches have canceled services, while most are having the regular Sunday service, only maybe an abbreviated version, in order to let families visit and be together today. As we gather today for Christmas church let’s remember the reason why we celebrate Christmas. Not all Christians have deliberately celebrated the birth of Jesus with a special holiday. After all, if you remember, the Puritans – those first Christian settlers to North America – didn’t formally celebrate the Christmas season. They abstained from it for spiritual purposes, believe it or not. What was their problem with Christmas? To understand their logic you have to understand the scene in Europe at the time. Puritans were called “puritans” because they sought a pure form of biblical Christianity without all the traditional trappings the established church brought to the Christian faith. In other words, they were reformers of the Christian faith who felt it was important to limit Christianity to only what the Bible specifically taught, nothing more. In Europe at the time most of Christianity was operating under a state church system, meaning, that each country had it’s own official state Christian church. For example, in England there was the Anglican Church. In Spain, there was the Roman Catholic. In Norway, Sweden and other Northern European countries, Lutheranism was the official state church. And these state churches controlled the public expression of Christianity, including how Christmas was celebrated. The Puritans rejected these ideas.  For them, Christmas was a time, yes, to remember the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ, but in a simple, modest way. The feast days and holiday celebrations of the established churches had gotten out of hand, out of control in their revelry and indulgence. Now what true Christian today can’t sympathize with our Puritan forefathers in their criticism of overdoing Christmas celebrations? Don’t we see this happening all the time today, although in a new, modern way? The overly commercialization of Christmas, the extra secular trappings constantly added year-after-year, the strong link between Christmas gift-giving and materialism and consumerism, the emphasis on celebrating the celebration rather than the reason for the season, Jesus. Yes, if our Puritan forerunners were here today they’d probably vote all the more to pass on Christmas because of what it has become today, as well as their original reasons. But as Christians today, we must ask the question anew, “Is the condition of the modern celebration of Christmas so bad that we totally abstain from the holiday altogether, like the Puritans?” In answering this question, I conclude that the sad state of the Christmas holiday season, as bad as it is and as bad as it’s getting, still doesn’t give us reason for doing away with all of it. We are free to celebrate Christmas in any way we choose today, so we aren’t forced into one, established Christian or church expression that the Puritans faced. We are free to emphasize any aspect of Christmas that aligns with our biblical Christian convictions. But even though we are free to celebrate Christmas according to the biblical emphasis, that doesn’t mean we aren’t led astray by our mostly secular, pagan culture – we can be led astray and we often are led astray because of its strong influence today, especially with television. So we need to listen to the Puritans, even though we decide against their radical reaction to culture’s excessive holiday celebrations. Let’s look at a few reasons why we should celebrate Christmas using a number of passages from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

 

First, we should celebrate Christmas because of the Old Testament example. Joshua 4:4-7, “So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, on e fro each tribe, and said to them, ‘God over before the ark of the Lord your God into the idle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.’” This is an example, not by an means the only example, of ancient Israel remembering an important historical and spiritual event in their faith tradition. We could talk about the Passover with Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. The Passover feast is a remembrance of that event. We could talk about other feasts and festivals that the Jews were careful to observe on a yearly basis. All of these were for the purpose of remembering special past, historic events in the spiritual history of the Jews. Most of these holidays on the Jewish calendar were commanded by God himself, specifically recorded in the pages of the Old Testament, although a few of them are celebrations that the Jewish people naturally remembered and built special days around, without specific commands of God to do so. Now when we look at our celebration of Christmas, in the past and today, we can’t exactly point to any command of Christ or the Apostles for making it a holiday. There is nothing in the New Testament, nothing in the Gospel accounts specifically that instruct Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus. But we shouldn’t think that implies there’s something wrong with doing so, because that would be faulty reasoning. Just like in the Old Testament, not all the special feast days or festivals or celebrations of the Jews are specifically commanded by God, yet they served an important purpose in the spiritual calendar of Israel. The truth is, we humans need help in remembering things, especially things spiritually important. Today, our secular calendar is full of special days that probably shouldn’t be there, like Halloween and Valentine’s Day and other secular holidays. Then there are national holidays such as the Fourth of July and President’s Day. If we aren’t careful we’ll lose the importance of the truly important days in the midst of all the other holidays we’ve added to our calendars. It’s important, even more important today with all the other, extra holidays added in a secular culture, to remember the truly important ones – such as Christmas and Easter. That’s why as Christians, I think it’s great that we can still celebrate Christmas, that our whole culture still celebrates Christmas, even though there is no question it is now being diluted of its spiritual meaning more and more. The ancient Old Testament Jews remembered important events in their faith history and so should Christians today remember special events in the history of our Christian faith, such as Christmas and Easter. That’s why I’m all in favor of celebrating the Christmas holiday. I understand and agree with where the Puritans were coming from; I just think they took things too far in rejecting the whole Christmas holiday celebration.

 

Second, we should celebrate Christmas because of the New Testament example. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Of course, this is the famous Lord’s Supper passage, read or recited every Communion in churches all around the globe. It’s purpose is to point us back to the Lord’s sacrifice for us on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. It is supposed to remind us of this most important event in the life of Christ and it’s supposed to bring us into the reality of that event every time we participate. Why do we need to repeat and remember again the Lord’s Last Supper? Because we are so prone to forget or neglect great spiritual themes, we need help in recalling these important things in order to live in their reality in the present. There can be no doubt that Christ’s death on the cross for our salvation is most important of all the things Christ did during his incarnation on earth. It is appropriate for us to remember or recall or reenact it on a regular basis so that we never, ever forget it, so we can always participate in it by faith. But what about Christmas? There is no specific instruction from the Lord concerning its remembrance. We are specifically and very deliberately instructed by Jesus to remember his death on the cross for our salvation, but he doesn’t tell us to remember his birth in the same way. Does that mean we are to forget his birth? Does that mean we shouldn’t honor and celebrate it? No. We should remember and reflect on all the great things Jesus said and did while he was here on earth. Why wouldn’t we simply, naturally, emphasize certain important events in the life of Christ, such as his birth, his death and his resurrection? Even though there is no direct instruction to do so, I think it makes a lot of sense to celebrate the birth of Jesus. And this is exactly what the established church has done for nearly 2000 years of Christian history. Now the Puritan’s and others had a problem with the way it was celebrated – and we can understand their argument. But if we are free to celebrate it any way we want, let us say the right way, then why shouldn’t we? It’s an important event in our faith history. In one sense, if it hadn’t occurred, none of the other important events could have occurred either. If Jesus hadn’t been born, he couldn’t have lived his miraculous life or died his sacrificial death or rose supernaturally from the grave. So we really should celebrate the birth of Jesus because it’s very important for us to reflect on this important events – and all that it means to us today. Were the Puritans wrong in not celebrating Christmas in their day? No, because we aren’t specifically instructed by God to celebrate it; we are given the liberty to do so or not to, depending upon our convictions concerning the matter.

 

Third, we should celebrate Christmas to the degree and extent we feel comfortable doing so. Romans 14:5-6, “Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.” According to the New Testament God gives us freedom in our worship and celebration of our faith. Personally, I see many reasons for the celebration of Christmas and not many reasons against it. But again, that is the conclusion I’ve come to. But for others, such as the Puritans, I can understand their reasons for abstaining from celebrating Christmas – the pagan corruption of the holiday, the overindulging and revelry associated with Christmas and all feast-day celebrations, the growing worldliness of celebrations, the actual neglect or forgetting of the holiday’s true meaning, the pageantry and show associated with public celebrations – to name a few objections. Of course, we must remember that the Puritans didn’t fail to remember the events of Christ’s life; they just abstained from setting aside a special, public day or season for remembering Christ’s birth because of the way it was being celebrated in the culture. The irony is, the Puritans probably celebrated Christ’s life, death and resurrection better than most people even though they abstained from the Christmas holiday. And most of the people who celebrated the Christmas holiday probably neglected remembering the Lord most of the rest of the year. The sad truth is that most of the holiday celebrating today isn’t the celebration of the Lord Jesus but rather celebrating or partying for its own sake. The pagan people’s of Europe had winter celebrations on or around December 25th before Christmas was ever celebrated. Heading into a long, cold and dark winter, there are purely natural reasons why people would find any excuse to eat, drink and be merry. And sadly, the same pagan winter celebrations continue, only now, because of the Christmas tradition, they use December 25th as their rallying point for doing something they’d do anyway in some form or fashion. How many people who celebrate Christmas actually do it for spiritual reasons? What all of this means in our modern, secular society is this – we need to use the freedom God gives us to participate or not participate in all or part of the Christmas holiday. Not all of the traditions formed around Christmas are healthy; these should be neglected or rejected. Some or most of the traditions that have developed around Christmas are neither harmful nor helpful, they just are, what they are. These we should participate in as we see fit. But the truly spiritual traditions, such as the singing of church Christmas carols and attending candlelight services on Christmas Eve are very helpful in remembering the reason for the season. But what the New Testament teaches us is that others and we are free to participate or not participate in Christmas. If someone you know rejects Christmas as pagan and corrupt, let him or her take that position and not participate. Let’s let Christmas time be a holiday of peace, hope and love, not something we battle over. Let’s remember that holy morning when Christ was born, that peaceful setting in the quiet of the night, as in the popular Christmas hymn, Silent Night – all is calm, all is bright. Let’s all remember the birth of Jesus in our own way and let others remember it in their own way also.

 

 

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