Christmas and Christians
In the Restoration Movement, it is our plea to "go back to the Bible." We turn to the Bible to establish authority for every practice and teaching of the church. We seek to do the things the congregations of the first century did (that, according to Scripture, were pleasing to God). Our goal, as a congregation, should be to be a church of which Jesus, Paul, Peter, and the other Apostles would approve, one that is Christ-centered and Christ-directed, one that "speaks where the Scriptures speak, and is silent where the Scriptures are silent." With this goal in mind, let us address the topic of Christmas and Christians.
In this context it is not our purpose to discuss the history or myths surrounding the origin of Santa Claus (St. Nicholas), but to see what the Bible says. However, to show relevance between the world's view of Christmas and the Bible, according to Microsoft's Encarta.com web site, "Although most adults view Santa as the embodiment of a spirit of giving, some argue that the modern image of Santa Claus conflicts with the true meaning of Christmas and promotes greed and commercialism. To reconcile the legend of Santa Claus with the religious significance of Christmas, some Christians emphasize that the modern figure is derived from legends about a saint who symbolized love, caring, and generosity" (http://encarta.msn.com/find/Concise.asp?ti=06E56000#5). What is this "true meaning of Christmas" of which the Christian world speaks? Let us see what the Bible says about it.
Traditionally, December 25 is regarded as the birthday of Jesus Christ. Of course there is no proof (or credible evidence) that Jesus was born on that day, or even in that month. Does it really matter what day He was born? Many people will admit that they can't prove Jesus was born that day, but that they just celebrate that particular day as His birthday.
Did New Testament Christians ever celebrate the birthday of Jesus? Did they have a day set aside to remember His birth? In this matter, the Scriptures are silent. There is no mention in the Bible of any Christian or congregation celebrating Jesus' birthday. However, the Bible speaks quite clearly of remembering his day of death in the Lord's Supper. We are not saved by Christ's birth, but by His death.
But some will say, "What about the three wise men who brought gifts to Jesus?" Modern tradition (the Nativity) paints a scene of newborn Baby Jesus laying in a wooden box, with Mary, Joseph, some animals, and three wise men standing around looking on. Also, the wise men each carry a gift for Jesus. While this is mostly correct, it is not totally accurate according to Scripture.
Open your New Testament to Matthew 2, and let us see about the "wise men." The magi (wise men, and the Scripture does not say how many there were) arrived from "the east" and came to Jerusalem looking for the King of the Jews. They had seen His star and come to worship Him. King Herod was upset by this, so he discussed it with his priests and scribes. Then he called the magi together and determined when the star had appeared. He told them to go find the Child and then report back to him. So they went, following the star, "and they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshipped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrhh" (verse 11). But God warned them not to go back to Herod. When Herod realized he had been tricked, he "sent and slew all the male children who were born in Bethlehem and in all environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi" (verse 16).
According to Historian Alfred Edersheim, "So long as anyone lived, who was born in Bethlehem between the earliest appearance of this 'star' and the time of the arrival of the Magi, [Herod] was not safe. The subsequent conduct of Herod shows that the Magi must have told him, that their earliest observation of the sidereal phenomenon had taken place two years before their arrival in Jerusalem" (pg. 159). Therefore, it is possible that by the time the Magi arrived, Jesus was up to two years old! From this it is obvious that by the time the magi came to see Jesus, He could have been as old as 2 years old! Furthermore, they did not find him laying in a manger or surrounded by animals. He was in a house!
However, our question is not about His age at the time of this supposed "birthday" celebration, but about the giving of gifts. Why did the magi give Him gifts? Was it to celebrate His birthday? The Scriptures say nothing of that, but the Scriptures DO say that they came to worship Him as the King of the Jews. It was traditional to bring a gift when one visited a king or ruler. To come without a gift would mean rejection, if not death, for the insult!
Does Christ expect us to bring Him a gift today? The only "gift" we can give Him is our life. Romans 12:1 tells us to "present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship."
Is there anything wrong with individuals or families celebrating Decemeber 25 as the birthday of Jesus? As individuals, I believe we each have the right to regard each day however we choose (Romans 14:5). Likewise, there is nothing wrong with exchanging gifts, either on December 25 or any other day of the year. It is simply a "tradition" to do so.
Is there anything wrong with the Church celebrating Christmas or attaching special significance to December 25? If we truly wish to have Bible authority for all that we practice, and to be "silent where the Scriptures are silent," then we must say that the Church has no business celebrating Christmas, Easter, or any other holiday. This ties in to the nature and work of the Church. The work of the Church is NOT: pleasing men, providing entertainment, or supporting human traditions. The Bible teaches that individuals are free to behave with liberty in many matters, but the Church is limited to following the commands, apostolically-approved examples, and necessary inferences/implications of the New Testament. If the New Testament churches did not celebrate Christmas, and we wish to follow their example, then we (as a church) cannot celebrate Christmas anymore than we can add mechanical instruments to the singing. This means, in effect, that the local church cannot fund, promote, sponsor, oversee, facilitate, or in any way support a practice that is not authorized by the New Testament. Let us, as a church, speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent!
Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.Grand Rapids: AP&A.
Written by David F. Sims, doing my part to "turn the world upside down" (Acts 17:6)
All quotes taken from the New American Standard Bible, unless otherwise stated.
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