From the Preacher’s Pen…
Christmas time is one of the two times each year that many people actually take a moment to acknowledge Jesus. Christians sometimes feel the need to hastily stomp out any talk of Jesus during December. That is both sad and wrong! Others want to be like the world and embrace all the false teaching and nonsense (like the “Three Wise Men” visiting the baby in the manger and on the night he was born – something that never happened!). Some, however, feel that it is a good time to take the “opening” like this and use it to begin to gently share the truth.
If we as Christians are to both encourage one another and share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others, we must understand the truth ourselves! But that doesn’t always mean we hastily cram the whole thing down the throat of the first person we meet who doesn’t understand!
Jesus and the Apostles sometimes corrected misconceptions such as when Paul and Silas were called “gods” at Lystra (Acts 14:8-18). On other occasions, they simply never commented one way or the other on them. Jesus, for example, took advantage of the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) to teach truths about Himself, and yet never preached a sermon on whether or not the traditional story actually was a “miracle” by God.
Both examples teach us important lessons. We still enjoy a season of joy and family get-togethers without violating God’s will. We make sure we really understand the truth behind what God says (or doesn’t say) about the man-instituted “holiday.” And finally, we use the opportunity to gently, kindly, lovingly share the real Good News.
Let’s begin with what we really know…
To begin with, I guess most of us realize how dangerous it is to accept something that everyone tells you is “common knowledge.” Just a quick look at advertising through the years and the many hazardous things that have been marketed as “safe” should be enough to make us all very cautious about accepting things that “they” or “everyone” say or believe.
Perhaps one of the most loudly proclaimed dangers to our society at this time of year is the danger of taking the Christ out of Christmas. So, let’s do a little research into the subject.
You can find at least one or two websites that claim to “prove” that Jesus was actually born on December 25. They even claim that shepherds commonly take their sheep into the mountains even in heavy snow. Since such claims are easily checked against reality we can safely discard their assertions.
In contrast, there are numerous historical (and other) websites (not to mention numerous books — you remember those old printed things without a computer chip in them, don’t you?) that give you the historical facts about the origins of Christmas as a “Christian” day. In short, the pagan Roman feast day honoring the birth of Sol (the Sun god) continued to be celebrated by many, if not most, Roman Christians. Religious leaders in Rome “proclaimed” it in 354 AD as Christ’s birthday so they could give a “Christian” meaning to their revelry. Unfortunately, leaders in other parts of the Roman Empire had other days they wanted to use with their local people and there was widespread disagreement over what day to call the birthday of Jesus even then.
As little as a century ago, most denominational churches that now “celebrate” Christmas as Jesus’ birthday decried it as pagan and unfit for Christians. A couple of snippets from history will suffice:
Encyclopedia Britannica, 1946 edition, had this comment: “Christmas (i.e., the Mass of Christ)… Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the church…. It was not instituted by Christ or the apostles, or by Bible authority. It was picked up afterward from paganism.”
\The Encyclopedia Americana, 1944 edition, said: “Christmas… was, according to many authorities, not celebrated in the first centuries of the Christian church, as the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons rather than their birth….” (The “Communion,” which is instituted by New Testament Bible authority, is a memorial of the death of Christ.) … A feast was established in memory of this event [Christ’s birth] in the fourth century. In the fifth century, the Western Church ordered it to be celebrated forever on the day of the old Roman feast of the birth of Sol, as no certain knowledge of the day of Christ’s birth existed.”
Most encyclopedias, or other authorities, will tell you that Christ was not born on December 25. The Catholic Encyclopedia frankly states this fact: “The exact date of Jesus’ birth is entirely UNKNOWN, as all authorities acknowledge — though many think that the Scriptures at least strongly indicate that it was in the early fall — probably September — approximately six months after Passover.” [There are those who argue for almost every event in the Jewish calendar as being the “one most likely” to have been the time of Jesus’ birth. –LPB]
Even widely respected commentators such as Adam Clarke commonly noted this same fact and often preached it from the pulpits of both America and Europe.
So, when was Jesus born and why such a frantic outcry today? Honestly, it is more a matter of what people want than what God says! We want to have what we want and be like other people! We don’t want to be different! We demand that God give us what we want! And, sadly, most religious leaders find it easier to give in and give up than to keep on teaching the truth!
For those who would honor God’s word and God’s wishes, there is an interesting parallel. When Moses died, God buried him “in the valley in the land of Moab… but no man knows his burial place to this day.” (Deuteronomy 34:6) And yet visitors to the Bible Lands are shown the “exact” burial place of Moses! Lest you think that to be a modern invention, many think it was pointed out even in New Testament times. Is it really surprising that folks are trying to “point out” the exact day when Jesus was born?
When you consider the facts as actually revealed by God do you suppose that God might have intentionally withheld the date of Jesus’ birth because He knew we would focus too much on it as the special day of remembrance and worship? Could God have actually wanted us to remember not the birth but the resurrection as the vital focal point of faith?
The earliest Christians remembered Christ’s coming (His birth and life on earth) along with His atoning death and His victorious resurrection all year long. That remembrance for them was made even more precious by their worship together on the Lord’s Day. Isn’t that what we should do?
Take advantage of the season. Rejoice with family and friends as we are together. Always remember (and teach each other and our children) the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about God’s matchless gift of His Son coming to this earth for us!
Let’s remember to kindly and gently “let our light shine before men in such a way that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Let’s “never grow weary of doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13) and “encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Let’s work to make this week and the coming year a great one in our service together to the Lord!
— Lester P. Bagley