The following is from the December “Pastor’s Pennings” I wrote for my church, First Baptist Church Metuchen.
Addressing The Elephant in the Room: The Five Cs of Christmas That Every Christian Should Know
Christmas is a great time to reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ. It is an amazing opportunity to retell the story of Mary and Joseph to our children. We tell the story through the reading of the scriptures, singing traditional songs, and performing Christmas plays. Actually, this next Sunday our children’s ministry will tell the story during our 11am service. We have a great list of things lined up between now and Christmas to reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ. So, please invite others to come and hear “the reason for the season.” I thought it would be appropriate to go a little beyond the traditional stories to address the elephant in the room that is the origin of Christmas day, and to try to distinguish it from the purpose and meaning of Christmas that we celebrate as believers. This is so that we are prepared to answer if someone tells you or perhaps posts something on your social media telling you that Christmas is a pagan holiday.
1) Controversies: The controversies surrounding Christmas are many, and they are old. Therefore, Christmas has been under constant scrutiny from its inception. During the Christmas season many take shots at the origin, meaning, and purpose of this day and post articles, videos, and arguments against or for Christmas on the internet. I have come across shocking titles like hidden secrets about Christmas, the hidden truth of Christmas, the hidden history of Christmas, etc. In my view there is nothing hidden about the origin of Christmas. The only thing that is hidden is the motive behind such unnecessary attacks on Christianity in an attempt to connect it to paganism. All controversies have one common theme: they do not focus on the birth of Christ rather the date on which he was born. Christmas is about the birth of Christ.All controversies have one common theme: they do not focus on the birth of Christ rather the date on which he was born. Christmas is about the birth of Christ. Click To Tweet
2) Celebrations: Birthdays are celebrated to celebrate the lives of people, not the dates on which the birthdays fall. Though I do not find any objection in the Bible against celebrating birthdays, historically, numerous Church Fathers did not approve of celebrating them, therefore also the birthday of Jesus. Still many legalistic believers continue to speak against celebrating birthdays and even associate it with paganism and magic. The birth of Jesus is a fact and commemorating it on any date should be a sign of the celebration of Jesus’ birth. My mom was born to illiterate parents in Lahore, Pakistan so they did not care about the date of her birth. So as children, my siblings and I saw that everyone in our family got to celebrate a birthday except for our mom. We decided on a date to celebrate her birthday. Now for many years, we have been celebrating her birthday on the first of the year–January 1st.
3) Contextualization: Offering a Christian celebration to replace a pagan celebration may have been a contextualization of the feast Natalis Solis Invicti, the birthday of the “Unconquerable Sun God” , which was celebrated at the winter solstice and followed Saturnalia to celebrate the birth of Jesus “the Sun of Righteousness.” I have been teaching a course on global missions called Perspectives for some time now. Some of the lessons discuss the idea of contextualization in the missions field, that is, to find similarities in the host culture to communicate the truths of God. However, one must be careful as to how far one should go in contextualization. To the critics of Christmas, looking back, the commemoration of Christ’s birth on December 25th accomplished three things:
- opposed the pagan practice,
- weakened the pagan tradition, and
- launched a day to commemorate and celebrate Christ’s birth.
By today’s standards, it is like hosting a Christian service, (Christ-Mass), a prayer gathering or church service on Halloween night rather than being in the Halloween parade in downtown Manhattan.
4) Commercialization: The most reasonable objection for me is the commercialization of this day. The world will do what the world has always done. The world turned the temple into a profit market (John 2:16), and probably, on the way to Golgotha probably many were selling merchandise to the spectators while Christ was carrying the cross for their sins and ours. My point is, we should not expect the world to do anything different. We should not lose sight of what this day represents. Growing up in Pakistan, Christmas day brought joy and celebration because all Pakistanis knew whether we have little or more, we were celebrating Christ. The worldly idea that this is a day of generosity and kindness is still something to celebrate because any day the poor and needy get some help is a win for Christ.The worldly idea that this is a day of generosity and kindness is still something to celebrate because any day the poor and needy get some help is a win for Christ. Click To Tweet
5) Conclusion: Whether the date of the birth of Jesus is correct or not, the birth of Jesus Christ is a fact which changed and transformed the lives of billions. I am grateful for this commemorative day because I get to talk about the birth and purpose of the birth of Jesus. We as a church get to remember it through stories, special music, songs and hymns, prayers, preaching, and plays. I am happy that I grew up participating in those plays and now my children are participating in them too. This brings the community together and we get to teach our children the true meaning of Christ’s birth. One of my favorite Christmas stories is in Luke 2: 8-12: (8) And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (9) An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (10) But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (11) Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (12) This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
The good news of Jesus is the best news that one will ever hear. So, let’s share the good news of Jesus with others during this season. The glorious proclamation made by the angels about the humble state that the God of the universe took to become man so that He can save us is something worth sharing with others.