Well, Christmas is just about upon us. In many respects it is a wonderful, special time of year; but in other respects it is a source of controversy and cynicism. Which is it really? Let’s take a thoughtful look at from the Scripture’s and wisdom’s point of view.
Many of us (hopefully, all of us) know that no one really knows the birthdate of Jesus Christ. The traditional timing for the holiday (December 25, of course) is probably very wrong, since it is the least likely time of the year for shepherds and their flocks to be in the fields at night; the rainy season in Israel peaks in December and January. Jesus’ birth is far more likely to have been in late spring or summer, when it is warmer and drier and shepherds would indeed be in the fields at night. But the timing of the celebration isn’t really crucial, the event is.
Commanded or Not?
You will look from beginning to end—and back again—in the New Testament and not find a any sort of command to celebrate Jesus’ birth. The truth is that Christmas is a traditional celebration, not a command. Now, some may recoil at the word “tradition”, but before we write off the holiday, because it is only a tradition, let’s remember that Jesus Himself celebrated the tradition of Hanukkah (John 10:22,23), established in the intertestamental period to commemorate the purification of the Temple (164 BC) after the dark days of Antiochus Epiphanes. Tradition needs to be rejected only when it is equated to or contradicts Scripture, God’s word. And the celebration of the birth of the Savior does neither; therefore, we are free to do so and free to not do so.
Of course, the way that some celebrate Christmas does contradict Scripture (e.g., idolatry, debauchery), and in these cases the Christian must stand apart from the crowd. For some, this would reason enough not to celebrate Christmas; that’s their personal choice. For others, it is possible and even useful (see below) to jettison the bad and keep the good of Christmas.
Giving gifts at a time of celebration is common all over the world (e.g., birthdays, weddings, and holy days), and it is a major emphasis to many during the Christmas season. But while it is a time of giving (supposedly in imitation of the visit of Magi story), it mustn’t become the major focus. For some, Christmas is “the ecstasy of unbridled avarice” (to quote A Christmas Story); but for the Christian, it should be—it must be—much more. Give gifts; but major on the majors, not the minors—give your children something eternal, not just temporal.
We all love the precious time with family that Christmas usually brings, too, and that is good and right to do—we seem to get so little of it anymore. But even this good and wholesome reason is not really the true point of Christmas.
The Reason for the Season!
The true point is the wonderful birth of Jesus, the Christ. God’s promises of rescue and deliverance from sin and death were not going to be just pie-in-the-sky, not just vapor-ware (for you computer geeks out there), not unkept and neglected promises; they would be fulfilled. The defeat of Satan, the victory over evil, the beginning of the end of Eden’s curse was becoming physical reality.
And then there is the glorious miracle of His birth. I’m not just talking about the virgin birth, as amazing and mind-blowing as it was and is. No, I’m talking about God becoming flesh, about fitting the ocean of Deity into the thimble of a human body, about the descent of the Creator to become like the creation—so that He could…
- walk not just a mile but a lifetime in our shoes
- suffer pain like we do
- get sick like we do
- get tempted like we do
- get physically tired like men
- be limited as we are
- leave a real life example like no one else ever did
- suffer injustice as we do
- be profoundly humiliated by other men as we sometimes are
- die—excruciatingly, like none ever will
- save us like no one else possibly could
- and rise from the dead like we all will someday
And it is one of the two times of the year that many in our culture actually reflect on the spiritual and consider Jesus. That’s the reason that atheists want to take it out of the public view, and why Satan tries to make it all about the material stuff.
So, as far as Christmas goes: major on the majors, minor on the minors, reject what needs to be rejected, and whether you celebrate the tradition or not, don’t forget that it is a wonderful opportunity to share and talk about “the Reason for the season” with others.