It comes as a shock to some people that we do not have a special service memorializing the birth of Christ, especially when so many religious groups advertise pageants, plays, and concerts celebrating “Christmas.” People tell us that Jesus Christ is “the reason for the season.” Our refusal to jump on the bandwagon is not by neglect, but by design.
We do not want to demean the Son of God, but to honor him. His birth in Bethlehem touches us all. His purpose for coming into the world, taking on human flesh, and dying for our sins moves us even more. The one memorial by which we remember the sacredness of this purpose – a memorial he himself instituted – is the Lord’s Supper, which is offered every “first day of the week” (1 Cor.11:17ff; Acts 20:7). The concept of Christmas as an annual holy day is conspicuously absent from the pages of the New Testament. The name is not there. The December 25 date is missing. The observance of the day is nowhere to be found.
When, therefore, did the observance of Christmas day as we know it begin? The article on “Christmas” in the Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, ed. Everett Ferguson, gives us some answers. Here are a few summations:
- The festival was not generally established before the end of the fourth century. Moreover, an influential third-century teacher named Origen even argued that Christians should not celebrate birthdays because it was considered a pagan custom. (Such is no longer the case, any more than we honor pagan “gods” by using the names of each day of the week – Sunday, Monday, etc. This is to suggest, however, that Christians of the third century did not get caught up in the “birthday” of Christ – MW).
- A festival of the birth of Christ was transferred to December 25th to counter the influence of a pagan festival held that day in honor of the sun (Sol Invictus = “the invincible Sun”).
- The first evidence for the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th comes from Rome in the year 336.
- The church in Egypt did not accept this festival until 431, and the Palestinian Christians, including those in Jerusalem, did not observe it until the middle of the 6th century!
The exact date of our Savior’s birth is not known, but several sources testify to the unlikelihood of Palestinian shepherd watching their flocks by night in the cool, sometimes rainy, conditions of December. In any case, there are no instructions in the New Testament for giving special significance to the “birthday” of Christ – December 25th or otherwise. God has never looked favorably on the institution of a religious holy day which is not authorized in his Word (cf. 1.Kings 12:33).
A lot of evangelicals have totally lost sight of this important principle. For instance, a few years ago in Focus on the Family magazine, James Dobson admits to the pagan roots of a December 25th Christmas, but he argues, “To my mind, it’s what you make of the event that counts…. It is my opinion that this holy holiday can be the same for any family that chooses to make it so.”
Has God given us such free rein that whatever “we make” of an event is what counts? And who made this holiday “holy”? Only God makes something holy (Ezek.22:26; 44:23; Lev. 10:1-2, 10-11). What book, chapter and verse from the Bible can you cite to show he has done so with the religious observance of Christmas? Human beings should be humble when dealing with the Creator of the universe!
This is a wonderful time of year to get together with the family on a holiday and enjoy some of the festivities, food and gift-giving. Nevertheless, we cannot attach any special significance to our Savior’s birth during this season – a custom with pagan roots. We invite you to faithfully serve the Lord 365 days each year.
mikewilson777 [at] yahoo [dot] com