For it is by grace you have been saved...

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Biblical Celebration of Christmas?

One of my pet peeves has always been the presence of the “wise men” in various Nativity scenes this time of year. There are many reasons. One, there always seem to be three of them, and though the Bible mentions three kinds of gifts, there is never a reference to their number. Two, they always appear royal, as in “We Three Kings”, but again the Biblical record never indicates any royalty. And of course, number three, THEY WEREN’T PRESENT AT THE BIRTH!

Sorry for shouting. I get a little worked up. Matthew chapter 2 clearly states that these magi, wise men, saw the star when Jesus was born, started off on a long journey to find him, and arrived to find the child and his mother in a “house.” Obviously some time had passed, the child is now older, they are in a house, etc.

Furthermore, based on their information, King Herod sets out to kill this newborn king, and since he doesn’t know the exact time, he kills all male children under two years old. Why two years if the wise men arrived immediately after the birth.

So anyway, this one little Biblical issue has always been a sore spot for me. Recently, however, I read a reposting of a satirical piece over at the Sacred Sandwich (it’s a great article, you need to read it; go here). It mentions all those other non-biblical fixtures of the holiday season, and set me to thinking about what it means to have a biblical celebration of Christmas.

Here’s the problem. Celebrating Christmas isn’t biblical. Now before you go crazy on me, stop and consider this from a reasonable, non-emotional perspective. I love Christmas. I love the trees and lights and presents and snow. I confessed to our church yesterday that I even love some of the totally non-Christian elements, many of the traditional movies, songs, etc. So I’m not trying to be a Scrooge or anything.

But here’s the truth of it. God never implies in Scripture that we are to celebrate the birth of Christ. In fact, the timing of the whole event is noticeably vague. We don’t know for sure when Christ was born; although it almost certainly wasn’t December 25th. I’ll spare you the arguments; you can google it and do the research yourself if you want.

Contrast that with the celebration of the Resurrection. We have more specific details of the timing of it all, in relation to Passover, etc. And we are told specifically in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that we are to commemorate that event through the celebration of Communion, the Lord’s Supper, if not necessarily with the setting aside of a specific day.

The early church didn’t celebrate Christ’s birth. It wasn’t until over 100 years later when the Pope decided it should be an official observance. In fact, the whole idea of a Christ-Mass drips with Catholic theology and imagery that should really raise some red flags for us Protestant types. (read a wonderful take on this over at the Gospel Driven Disciples site. It’s worth your time).

And as most of you know, many, if not most, of the traditional aspects of our Christmas holiday derive more from pagan sources than any sort of Biblical ones. Again, I’ll spare you the long drawn out details, but surely you know of the pagan “yule” celebrations, Santa Claus (despite the Christian saint at the heart of some of it), etc.

So, I’m left with the question again: Is there a “Biblical” celebration of Christmas? Well, maybe we can answer both “yes” and “no.” No, there are no Biblical mandates to celebrate Christ’s birth. No, much of our tradition has little if any Biblical basis at all. And yet…

Our primary task in this world, in seeking His will and glory, is to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. And that good news includes this wonderful thing we call the Incarnation; God becoming man; the Word made flesh. Oh what mind-blowing truth is caught up in that; truth which should drive us to our knees in worship and adoration of our great God of grace.

Understanding the need for the Incarnation; our sin. Understanding the purpose of the Incarnation; to accomplish atonement for our sin. Understanding the plan for the Incarnation; God’s eternal plan to save a people for Himself for His own glory. All of these things make this an event worth celebrating. And December 25th is just as good a day as any other.

So are Santa and reindeer Biblical? No. Are wise men in the manger scene Biblical? No. Are manger scenes in general mandated in Scripture? No. Is the very idea behind the word Christ-mas even Biblical? No.

However, is it Biblical to worship and adore our mighty God for sending His Son, for taking on flesh, for coming to die as a substitute for our sin? I would say Yes. So please, enjoy your Christmas. Enjoy your traditions (except maybe the wise men in the manger scene!). Enjoy the fun and family aspects of this season.

But as we’ve heard countless times before, let’s be sure that at the center of it all is the truth of the Incarnation and the reasons for it. I can guarantee that those who know Christ and His grace and mercy and forgiveness have more reason to celebrate than anyone else. Let’s be sure we use this opportunity to share that reality with those around us. And to God be the Glory.

1 comment:

Gregg said...

Very good post and thanks for the mention. Happy Holidays to you and yours.