Most Christians around the globe observe December 25 as a holiday to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. (Of course, even many non-Christians now celebrate this festival with gift giving and social gatherings.) Yet the exact date of Jesus’ birth is unknown, and as the origins of Christmas understood by most people are being called into question, some are beginning to wonder if Christians should participate in the many customs surrounding this most popular holiday in the Western world?
First, it is clear that the Bible does not contain a command to keep Christmas as a sacred day, such as with the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments. There is no Scripture saying, “Thou shalt keep the 25th of December holy.” While it might be a public holiday, it is not a biblical holy day.
What about the origins of Christmas? Concerns about pagan elements in this holiday are nothing new. Controversies over Christmas go back hundreds of years. The Puritans in England actually led the English Parliament to ban Christmas for a period of time as a “popish festival with no biblical justification” and a time of wasteful and immoral behavior. Even in Colonial America there was a time (1659) when Christmas was outlawed. More recently, secular elements of society have faced off with religious groups over nativity scenes and crosses on public property.
The Bible certainly highlights the birth of Christ (Luke 3:7). It not only describes the glorious announcement of the Messiah’s birth (v. 13) but also tells of shepherds coming to worship the newborn child (v. 16). These humble worshippers were not quiet about what they saw either (v. 17). Furthermore, there is a record of wise men from the east bringing gifts to Jesus—though this likely occurred when Jesus was a toddler (Matthew 2:11). If people recognized the birth of Christ through worship and bringing gifts, perhaps there is something we can learn from their examples.
Aside from its pagan elements, most people understand that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. But in practice, people spend more time in December cruising shopping malls than studying the life of the Savior. Frosty the Snowman and Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer compete with wise men and shepherds for our attention. During all the bustle between “Black Friday” and Christmas Eve, materialism tends to overshadow the simple stable.
But what if Christians spent more time witnessing for Christ at Christmas or purchasing and sharing Christians resources to point people to Jesus? What would happen if more families dedicated time and money to serve the poor and advance the gospel through short-term mission service? How would our churches be strengthened if, during this holiday time, believers explored the prophecies of Christ’s first advent as well as His second advent? Perhaps our concerns about Christmas should have less to do with its pagan origins and more with its current practice.
Many people might deny they “worship” this day as holy, but what is worship? Worship isn’t measured by simply attending a Christmas concert or midnight mass. It describes how we live our lives and spend our means. As Paul said, "He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord" (Romans 14:6), and, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
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