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Sunday, December 14, 2014

God and Christmas

There is an extreme element within the Christian community that shuns everything related to Christmas. They claim that the holiday is entirely pagan in origin (see my previous posts about God and paganism to refute this). These folks go on to say that we are not instructed to celebrate the events of Christ's birth, and that Christians were originally commanded to focus on his death. Thus, they assert that anyone who seeks to celebrate the story of Christ's nativity is either deceived or in direct rebellion against God's will. Is that true? Does God hate Christmas?

The Bible celebrates the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ in a number of passages. Let's take just a moment to underscore the fact that these scriptures are an integral part of the Judeo-Christian canon.

"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14)

"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. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this." (Isaiah 9:6-7)

"But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." (Micah 5:2)

"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." (Matthew 1:18-23)

"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him...And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh." (Matthew 2:1-11)

"And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end." (Luke 1:26-33)

"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed...And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angels said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:1-14)

Now that is an impressive testimony of Scripture concerning Christ's nativity - his advent or first coming to this earth. Are these scriptures to be dismissed or ignored? Are these verses part of the canon or not? And, if they are, aren't we as Christians obligated to celebrate them in the same fashion that we celebrate the other scriptures?

It is ironic to me that many of the folks who seek to dismiss Christmas as pagan exult in their observance of the festivals outlined in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus. By their own admission, they say that these festivals point to the life and work of Jesus Christ and God's plan of salvation for mankind. In this connection, they say that the Feast of Trumpets portrays the coming of Christ. To be sure, most of the time they stress the Second Advent of the Messiah; but, if you press them on the subject, they will acknowledge that this holy day probably covers his First Advent as well. Hence, even many of the folks who have rejected Christmas as pagan have unwittingly celebrated the birth of their Savior!

Does the date make any difference? Scripture does not give the date of Christ's birth (he may or may not have been born on the day that is purported to symbolize that event). In Great Britain, the queen's birthday is celebrated by her subjects in June. Her actual birthday, however, is in April. The reasoning is that it is warmer in June and thus more convenient for her subjects to celebrate the event. Likewise, in the United States, George Washington's actual birthday was on the 22 of February; but it is now officially celebrated as part of President's Day on the third Monday in February (to give folks who observe it a long weekend). President's Day had the added advantage of incorporating separate observances of Abraham Lincoln's birthday (also occurring in February) into a single holiday (thus employers didn't have to give their workers two days off in one month). Finally, just for the record, there is not a single verse in Scripture that prohibits the observance of birthdays.

In conclusion, I have to ask: What is wrong with celebrating what all Christians should regard as one of the most important events in human history? What is wrong with celebrating these Scriptures and the events that they explain? We aren't told to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving either - Does that make it wrong that we do? When you put it that way, such a notion sounds a little ridiculous doesn't it?

Thus, as someone who used to buy this hogwash about no Christmas, it gives me great pleasure to wish all of my Christian readers a very Merry Christmas!

4 comments:

  1. The birth narratives were a late innovation to the Gospels, the first Gospel not having it. As Christianity started out as an apocalyptic Jewish sect - no fun in that :-( , the Roman converts soon livened this moribund religion by importing their favorite Winter orgy, Saturnalia. Now the religion had some popular draw. Same today.

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  2. You are correct to point out that Mark (generally acknowledged to be the earliest of the gospel accounts) does not include the nativity narrative. However, many scholars believe that the Gospel of Matthew was composed next and was very likely based on some older writings. It is also apparent that this narrative was familiar to Christians very early in the Second Century. This is proven by the writings of Ignatius of Antioch (50-107 A.D.). Notice this quote from his epistle to the Ephesians as proof: " For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water. Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown, which were wrought in silence by God. How, then, was He manifested to the world? A star shone forth in heaven above all the other stars, the light of which was inexpressible, while its novelty struck men with astonishment. And all the rest of the stars, with the sun and moon, formed a chorus to this star, and its light was exceedingly great above them all. And there was agitation felt as to whence this new spectacle came, so unlike to everything else [in the heavens]. Hence every kind of magic was destroyed, and every bond of wickedness disappeared; ignorance was removed, and the old kingdom abolished, God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life. And now that took a beginning which had been prepared by God." -http://www.newadvent.org

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  3. You are quoting a biased Christian apologist writing long after the cult's primitive origins.

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  4. Ignatius was a devout (one could say almost fanatical) Christian, but I don't think that his writings reflect much interest in being an apologist for the religion. His writings are of particular interest to historians because he clearly lived in the period immediately following the apostles - that's about as close as we can get to Christianity's origins (After all, we're talking about a letter that was written within sixty years of the Gospel of Mark).

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