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12 Days of Christmas (1): Two Kinds of Christmas

I grew up in a Christian home where we celebrated Christmas as a family holiday, but we would not celebrate it as Jesus’ birthday. After all, the Bible (1) does not command us to remember His birth nor (2) does it tell us when He was born. Hence, we did not send greeting cards with manger scenes or angels. We would have fit in very well with the PC (Politically Correct) mindset of today.

My family was not alone in feeling that way; the spiritual community of believers that surrounded me believed the same.

  • When I was attending a Christian college, a group of students went “caroling” before going home for the holiday. As we approached the home of one of our professors, someone cautioned us, “Don’t sing any songs about Jesus’ birth – just songs about sleigh bells and Santa Claus.
  • When I was in New Zealand as a missionary, my associate preached on Why We Do Not Observe Christmas one Sunday evening, which was the time we were most likely to have visitors. Sure enough, that night we had a first time visitor with whom my associate had been working for several weeks. That was the last time we saw him.
  • In one congregation where I preached for several years, I went visiting each Thursday with one of the elders. One Christmas season, we came by my home at lunchtime and the elder saw our family Christmas tree. He expressed astonishment that I would have a tree in my home.

I could go on, but you get the idea. We did not celebrate a religious Christmas. The very idea of having a Christmas Pageant as a congregation was unthinkable. We did not even have congregational Christmas parties (Holiday Parties, maybe – but never a Christmas party). We never sang some of the familiar carols – such as God rest you, merry gentlemen! Let nothing you dismay” because the next line is “Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day.

Why not?

I have mentioned two reasons above:

1)      We do not know the date on which Jesus was born, and we thought that to celebrate His birth on any other day just would not be right.

2)     God never commanded us to celebrate Jesus’ birth. We had a concept of the silence of the Scripture that says God’s silence prohibits. If He says nothing about something, that simply means He forbids it.

While most of us did not go as far as the Jehovah’s Witnesses in refusing to recognize Christmas in any way, we definitely felt more comfortable with their total rejection of the holiday than with our religious neighbors who celebrated it as Jesus birthday. Thus, we embraced the Secular Christmas. Our Christmas had none of the joy that comes from the gift of God’s Son. All of our Christmas joy came through gifts and family celebrations.

Now, I have no problem with gifts and family celebrations. I think they are both good things – in moderation. However, I am concerned that we were intent on being different from others around us as we looked down on them for celebrating Jesus’ birth every December 25.

When I was about twenty-one years old, I really noticed this statement for the first time:

One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convince in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord…. He who… abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. – Romans 14:5-6

I still have the copy of the Bible I was reading when I read what Paul wrote here in a context about getting along with brethren who have different views of disputable matters. I wrote one word – Christmas? – in the margin of that Bible. It is still there 49 years later.

For the first time, it began to dawn on me that we do not have to have perfect agreement on every conceivable matter to be able to worship and serve God in unity. I still had a long way to go before I realized all that this means (if I realize it yet!). That day I did begin, at least, to understand that I should not reject someone just because he celebrated Christmas.

Two World Views – Two Views of Christmas

What I had done was, as far as Christmas was concerned, grown up with the secular world-view as opposed to the Biblical world-view. I did not realize the significance of that basic error in my thinking. It meant that I came down on the side of materialism and consumerism. I never though of Christmas as a time to remember God’s sacrificial giving.

Things are different for me now. We still have never had a manger scene in our Christmas display at home – but when we do send Christmas cards (which is seldom, but not from any conviction), we do not avoid those with a religious message. In fact, I feel more comfortable with a card about Jesus than with one about Santa.

In the churches where I have worshipped, we have never had a Christmas Pageant, but we have progressed to the point that we are not too afraid to have a Christmas Party instead of a Holiday Party! (I have even attended a few Christmas Pageants that have blessed me.) It astonishes me that so many of my brethren are more comfortable dressing up as devils on Halloween or as Santa on Christmas than they are with singing songs about Jesus’ birth at this season of the year.

I do not go so far as to say that dressing as devils or Santa are sin – but I do see some dangers in each of those. Halloween recognizes the spiritual world – but focuses on the dark side of it. (See this post.) The mythical Santa has god-like qualities (but more about that in a later post) that make him almost a substitute for God – and therefore an idol.

Which Christmas do you celebrate? None at all? The Secular Christmas where Santa is supreme? Or the Spiritual Christmas where Jesus is the Word of God made flesh as Immanuel, God with Us? As for me, if I am going to err in this matter I would prefer to err on the side of God instead of the secular, consumer based Christmas.

Note: Two days after I posted this item, Jay Guin posted this excellent article on “our” attitude toward Christmas. Check it out.

: Santa and Jesus


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