The irony of the Christmas debate never ceases to amaze me. On the one hand, secular culture really tries hard to take Christ out of Christmas. To them, Christmas is just another holiday. On the other hand, a very loud minority of Christians consider Christmas a pagan practice. The rest of us are uncomfortably sandwiched in between these two extremes.
Before the rise of social media these debates seemed a little more vague and obscure. Everyone pretty much just did their own thing and went on with their lives. But, social media definitely gets people from every side of the Christmas issue at one another’s throats. Lots of people feel the need to strongly state their opinions, and just about everyone else feels the need to be offended by everyone else’s opinion. Yeah, it’s about as crazy as it sounds.
Let me respond to the secular objections to Christmas first. They find offense at the elevation of one religion over others. And, in some cases, the elevation of any religion at all in the public domain. Their solution is to dechristianize the season and replace it with strictly secular terminology and traditions. Santa, elves, and reindeer fit nicely into this agenda because the childish make-believe parts of Christmas have no distinctly Judeo-Christian roots. When you peel back the layers you’ll find the secular motivation for attacking Christmas is mostly rooted in rabid christophobia (hatred of Christianity).
Without getting too far ahead of myself, this alone is a pretty compelling reason to celebrate Christmas louder and louder every year. If “pagans” consider Christmas too Christian for comfort than Christmas is clearly not a pagan holiday. On that note, Jesus said if you’re ashamed of me I’ll be ashamed of you (Mark 8:38). Christians should never shy away from any opportunity to talk about Jesus openly. Like it or not, America was founded on Judeo-Christian values. Sadly, I don’t really consider us a truly Christian nation any longer, however, we Christians have every right biblically and constitutionally to voice our faith loud and long.
I think capitulating to secularism would be a tragic mistake and offensive to the Lord. Of course, we should never be intentionally offensive or ugly, but just celebrating the birth of our risen Savior is well within our reasonable rights. If speaking the name of Jesus or talking about Emmanuel (God with us) publicly is offensive than we have an obligation to be offensive. If Christians become timid about a story as innocuous as the birth of the Messiah than we won’t have the courage to talk about His death and resurrection. Clearly, I have no sympathy for the secular objections to Christmas and you shouldn’t either.
Ok. Let’s shift gears and address the Christian objections to celebrating Christmas. Their concerns usually center around five different issues. One, we don’t actually know the date of Jesus’ birth. Two, the Bible doesn’t specifically instruct us to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Three, they argue that Christmas itself and the surrounding traditions are rooted in paganism. Four, a Scripture that appears to forbid Christmas trees. And five, the crass commercialism surrounding the Christmas season.
There are good and sincere people who make these objections compellingly. Others make ignorant claims that are more ludicrous and argumentative than necessary. I’ve certainly seen Christians from both sides of the issue display less than Christlike behavior when debating the points mentioned above. It’s mostly ugly, totally unnecessary, and destroys everyone’s credibility. Also, while I do believe that celebrating Christmas is a good thing (probably even a wonderful thing), I am painfully aware of how it feels to have deeply held counter-cultural convictions that others love to belittle. I have genuine sympathy for sincere Christians who simply can’t feel comfortable celebrating Christmas. Regardless, I do believe anti-Christmas convictions are not founded in solid facts. Nor do I think anti-Christmas convictions are worthy of imposing on fellow believers.
It’s true that we don’t actually know the exact date of Jesus’ birth. And, it’s highly unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25. It’s also true that Christians didn’t start celebrating Christmas until hundreds of years after the resurrection. And, my response basically boils down to a shrug of the shoulders. So what, I don’t need an exact date to celebrate and reflect on my Savior’s birth. It’s nice to have an agreed upon date so everyone can celebrate at the same time. It’s also worth remembering that early Christians were understandably busy avoiding martyrdom and being mutilated by lions. Furthermore, arguing that because early Christians didn’t celebrate Christmas means Christmas is somehow prohibited today is a pretty awkward theological and intellectual leap. Celebrating all things pertaining to Jesus seems like something every Christian should be excited about.
It’s true that the Bible never specifically commands us to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The word Christmas is not in the Bible. And again, my response is a fairly disinterested shrug of the shoulders. If the Bible prohibited celebrating the birth of Jesus, I would be all ears and fully on board with anti-Christmas sentiments. However, Scripture gives us important details surrounding the miraculous birth of the Messiah (Matthew 1:1-24, Matthew 2:1-23, Luke 1:26-66, Luke 2:1-40, John 1:1-16). In each of these passages angels and people celebrated the birth of Jesus. Many Old Testament prophecies revolved around Jesus’ birth (Genesis 22:18, Numbers 24:17, Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5-6, 2 Samuel 7:12-14, Micah 5:2, Isaiah 7:14, Psalm 72:9-10, Jeremiah 31:15, Hosea 11:1, Isaiah 9:6-7). It’s safe to say there are many Scriptures affirming the celebration of Christ’s birth and none forbidding it.
Regarding the concern that Christmas is rooted in paganism, the evidence for such a claim is far from clear. The origins of so many modern traditions are unsubstantiated and often misinformed. Sources claiming Christmas’ pagan roots contradict one another and rarely have any reliable methods for verification (please don’t send me weird internet links… I’ve seen them all… sigh). While some minor Christmas traditions like holly were probably used in pagan rituals this doesn’t make Christmas evil by association. Many things were used in pagan rituals that we use on a daily basis. For example, oak trees were revered almost universally by pagans and yet Christians don’t refrain from using oak trees and oak wood in their homes and yards. Even the Nike logo was originally a pagan symbol. But the association has been changed and no longer has pagan connotations. Either way, a Christian concerned about pagan symbolism could still celebrate Christmas and simply refrain from the particular traditions they find worrisome. This concern doesn’t require throwing Christmas out completely.
The Christmas tree debate is probably the most common concern Christians wrestle with in their minds. It’s an extension of the pagan roots concern, but this concern should be taken a little more seriously because there are two Bible passages that can be distressing at first glance (Jeremiah 10:1-16, Isaiah 44:9-18). The most cited passage comes from Jeremiah chapter ten verses three and four:
“For the customs of the people are vain; for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”
When looking at the passage in context, it’s clear that Jeremiah is referring to craftsmen who cut down trees for the purpose of creating idols. The decorating referred to here is not the decoration of a tree, but the decoration of a carved idol. Even more specifically, Jeremiah is expressly forbidding falling down and worshipping hand made idols. This biblical command applies to everything other than God alone. Worshipping a tree or anything else would be idolatry of the worst kind. I’ve known people who worshipped trees, but they were not Christmas trees. Even so, I could understand someone feeling uncomfortable with a Christmas tree. However, simply avoid the tree and celebrate the Savior if your conscious demands it. If you’re uncomfortable with my quick explanation of Jeremiah 10:3-4, check out John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible on verse three HERE, and on verse four HERE.
The last objection that many Christians raise is reasonable and should be heeded. Christmas has been hijacked by secularism and crass commercialism. There is a sense in which Christmas can become about receiving and not giving. The pressure to buy irresponsibly can be overwhelming at Christmastime. All the reindeer and elves can crowd out the message of Christmas if we aren’t careful. All the decorating, cooking, buying, and wrapping can become a silly substitute for reverencing the miracle birth of Jesus. Christians should guard against this mindset, and strive to keep Jesus at the center of the season.
The benefits of Christmas, in my opinion, far outweigh any of the negatives. The world is almost universally exposed to the story of Jesus’ entrance into the world. That revelation alone leads to more and more questions about who Jesus is and what He did while He was here. This opens tremendous opportunities for Christians to share their faith and talk about Jesus openly. Christmas brings families together and connects thoughts of Jesus with happy family memories. Christmas brings out the selflessness in many people. Charitable giving goes up drastically during the Christmas season. Many hard hearts grow tender towards God as they consider the Christmas story. Churches fill up with people who usually would not make church a priority. This exposes people to godly environments that can implant a seed of God’s Word into their consciousness.
For oneness Pentecostals, Christmas is an awesome opportunity to expose others to the great revelation that Jesus was the mighty God in Christ. For example, does it really make sense that a separate deity would send a son (who is also a coequal deity) to die on his behalf? What kind of father would send his son to be tortured and killed on his behalf? No. Jesus was the Word incarnate (Colossians 1:15, John 1:1, John 1:14, Philippians 2:6-7, 1 Timothy 3:16). Christmas is an excellent time to emphasize that Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22-23) literally means “God with us”. Jesus was not one of three distinctly separate deities born of a virgin. He was Emmanuel in the flesh. He is referred to as the Son of God because He had no earthly father (Luke 1:35). I don’t usually like the New American Standard Version, but I think it gives the clearest translation and explanation for why Jesus is referred to as the Son of God in Luke 1:35:
“The angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; AND FOR THAT REASON the holy Child shall be called the Son of God (emphasis is mine).”
Even the disciples seemed slightly confused about what this terminology meant. In John chapter fourteen Jesus was comforting them because He was leaving (John 14:1-6). He mentioned the mansions in the Father’s house and how no one could get to the Father but by Him. This caused Thomas to ask Jesus where He was going and how would they know the way (John 14:5)? Jesus’ most famous response is in verse six where He says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life… (John 14:6)”. But, people often overlook John 14:7:
“If ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also; and from henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him.”
Jesus clarified that because you have known Me you know the Father and you have seen Him! Wow! That’s an epic revelation.
But Phillip was still struggling to catch Jesus’ implication so he asked Him to show them the Father (John 14:8). So, Jesus gave one of the clearest of all answers in Scripture about His deity in John 14:9-10:
“…Have I been so long a time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, ‘Show us the Father’? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?…”
Jesus made the messianic claim that He was literally God in human flesh. That is the quintessential message of the Christmas story; God came to dwell with us. I can’t see how that is anything other than wonderful to celebrate.
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).”
Hey, if you’re looking for a great apostolic Christmas album, Check out A Story That Never Grows Old by Devin Cunningham. You’re welcome and Merry Christmas!