Christ is the Hope and Real Meaning of Christmas

'The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.'  O Little town of Bethlehem

‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’ O Little town of Bethlehem

I was recently asked by a young disciple of Christ if the celebration of Christmas was in the Bible. My response to his question was an immediate—Yes! Both the wise men and shepherds came to worship and praise Christ soon after His birth. “

Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:2)

“And they came in hast and found their way to Mary and Joseph and the baby as He lay in the manger…And the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen just as had been told to them.” (Luke 2:16,20)

The specific day observed by Christians around the world to commemorate the annual celebration of birth of Jesus Christ is on December 25th. The feast of Christmas was developed by the early church to combat a heathen celebration known as “Saturnalia” or winter solstice. The primary reason for countering this pagan celebration was to place strong emphasis on the importance of redemption and to reflect on the early ministry of Jesus Christ. According to Walter A. Elwell in his Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, “Christmas is not only a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, but it is also a time to stress the importance of receiving Him into the heart. His incarnation celebrates not only his birth but also His messianic age, which is the beginning of the end of the world as it marches toward eternity.”

Much speculation is made over the actual date of His birth by both theologians and secular historians. Scripture does not reveal the exact date of His birth, nor does it stress the time in which believers should celebrate of the Lord’s incarnation. What we do know is that by the late fourth century, Christmas was celebrated by many people within the church. Elwell also writes, “The church thereby offered the people a Christian alternative to the pagan festivities and eventually reinterpreted many of their symbols and actions in ways acceptable to Christian faith and practice. For example, Jesus Christ was presented as the Sun of Righteousness (Mal 4:2), replacing the sun god, Sol Invictus…” (Elwell, pg. 238)

Men like John Calvin, John Knox, the American Puritans, and many Presbyterians were in opposition to this practice. Mainly, because each generation incorporated into the its celebration many pagan customs (holly, mistletoe, Christmas tree, log fires, etc) and added new traditions (Christmas carols, nativity crib, etc). I would assume or suppose that the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church of Colosse would support their stance against such practices. He writes, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (2:8)

It was the Lutherans, the continental Reformers, and most other Protestants who defended the observance of Christmas by Christians. They sought to take the opportunity to stress the doctrine of the Incarnation during this seasonal celebration. I would suppose or speculate (again) that these individuals stressed their freedoms in Christ as mentioned by Paul (in his letter to the Romans) as a motive for participating in the Christmas festivity. The strong or mature believer’s faith in the passage below permits or allows him to exercise his freedom in Christ.

“For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for god has received him…One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it…” (Romans 14:2-3, 5-6)

By the mid-twentieth century Christmas was celebrated throughout the world. Countries such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America joined Europe in its festivities, plus incorporating new customs into their practices. With the recent influx of Modernism or Liberal Theology, the twenty-first century church has incorporated both a great deal of materialism and  an almost reverent response to the character known as Santa Claus. The strong emphasis on adapting religious ideas to modern culture and modes of thinking has almost eliminated from Christmas its original objective of Christ worship.

In either case, each man, woman, and child will have to stand before Christ for evaluation. It is interesting to note that His judgment does not take into account religious traditions or personal preferences like celebrating Christmas. This commemoration is not mentioned in scripture; therefore each believer must follow the dictates of his own conscience (unless specifically prohibited in scripture). The objective by the early church was call attention to redemption and to reflect on the ministry of Jesus Christ. We too during the Christmas advent must take the opportunity to draw men, women, and children back from their obsession with toys, gifts, sports, parties, etc to the worship of Christ (Crīstesmæsse, meaning “Christ Mass). The objective of every believer should be to bring non-believers into the true knowledge and worship of Christ, but also to the understanding of His immediate return.

Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year from our family to yours!

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