Please forgive me that once again I come out of the Christmas Holiday feeling disappointed and let down by it all. I just want to keep it real, but it never feels that way. In part it’s because of all the confusion over what Christmas is really about. As evangelical Christians we’re fond of blaming the “pagan”, or “Godless world” for our troubles, but it’s really we who are to blame and not the lost world at all. I took the kids to see “Arthur Christmas”. Now there’s a perfect illustration of the very crux of the problem. First, that I took them to see it at all, and second, the movie’s message of raw materialism. You see, in the modern age, the Grinch who stole Christmas wears a red suite and flies in a rain deer powered sleigh.
Within our own family we struggle to change these lifelong traditions regarding Christmas. One person refuses to open presents on Christmas day, instead, moving the “orgy of materialism” to a January time frame. Another says, no, move the celebration of the “real” Christmas to January and hold the pagan “orgy of materialism” on the pagan holiday in December. The only thing we seem to agree on is that we’re not going to deny our children, or ourselves, the “orgy of materialism”. That works well for the economy, especially the retail sector for whom enough is never really enough. Whenever it is that you choose to tear the wrapping from the presents, you leave the meaning of Christmas in shreds while encourage every kind of abhorrent behavior you’ve spent all year trying to teach your children to avoid.
You may note from both scripture and history that the first century apostolic church had no idea when Christ was born and never gave thought to a celebration of his birth. It wasn’t till much later, when the church became concerned about a calendar of feast days that Christmas began to appear among them. I often hear from evangelicals the complaint that the Pope changed the date of Christmas to coincide with a Roman, pagan holiday. It might have been, Gregory XIII or Julius I, or Benedict XIV. The truth of the matter is that blaming the Catholics is a reformation myth and it won’t make anyone blameless. In 400 AD, John Crysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, (not a Pope), established the date of Christ’s birth as December 25th, in a speech he gave in that great, Orthodox city. His speech revived the annual celebration which had pretty much died out by 386 AD. In British colonial times, Christian Puritans used the “Pope” myth to make it illegal to celebrate Christmas at all. You could be tried for heresy and hung if you were caught violating the law. The idea of celebrating Christ’s birth was tainted from the start and, as it grew in popularity, so did more and more tainted ideas about how and when it should be celebrated. Christmas celebrations only created more controversy among Christians who were already divided by hundreds of doctrinal issues. Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s birth, became just another devicive theme.
In truth, only two things really matter with regard to Christ’s birth. First, it is “The Gift of God”; that Christ came into the world for one purpose only and that was to die upon a cross. To shed his own blood in my place and yours in order to once and for all satisfy the requirement of the law of God. When exactly He was born loses all importance in the face of this truth.
“Oh Holy night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth…. Fall on your knees. Oh hear the angels voices. Oh night devine.” 1
No matter the day, “Fall on your knees” and give thanks for The Gift of God. That he was born into this world is enough. Even the scriptures do not testify to when it was, though they do testify to the gravity of His mission, in the events that surrounded His birth. I love the dark implications in the strains of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s, “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo)”. Both the music and the events that inspired it speak to the source of all darkness, (Rev. 12:1 – 9), and our need for a savior. We must learn to properly celebrate Christ, “The Gift of God”, who came into the world for one purpose only.
Second is the “Virgin Birth”. The virgin birth testifies to us that we are not able to save ourselves, but we require a savior to intervene from a power beyond our own. Oswald Chambers points out that the virgin birth testifies to the fact that Christ came into the world from outside. He is not of this world, but is God, incarnate, come to live among us, in order to show us the Way, to reveal the Truth, and to become Life for us through the paradox of His own death on a cross.
Nothing is changed in this world by the church’s annual celebration of Christmas as the birthday of Christ. In fact, for most, our Christmas Eve services are a dis-service to Him. Christ Jesus came into the world to die on a cross. It is that instrument of cruel death that God has changed into a symbol of new life; new life that comes from outside to change individual people on the inside, thus changing the world one life at a time. A simple, but powerful plan. So, keep it simple. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Celebrate it every day of the year instead of placing all your attention on one illusive day. And remember, all the blinking lights, and decorated trees with mountains of gifts beneath have never produced a single forgiven sin, or a single new life. Only Christ can do that. We, the church, have a responsibility to act for Him in the individual lives of the people around us each and every day of the year. “Christmas is love”. Use the celebration to give sacrificially as our Teacher gave His own life. Give until it hurts.
1 Lyrics – Placide Cappeau; Music – Adolphe Adam