At one time Christmas wasn’t a problem. Now when you sit down to write your cards, going through the list you try to remember who does and who does not celebrate Christmas. That is just the list of Christians, let alone Jewish friends and non-religious friends.
Christmas bashing is something of a habit in the UK. Its popularity rises and falls with some regularity. The secular world loves the season, but does not love the reason for the season. Once again Christmas is under attack, this time from Christians. The blame for celebrating Christmas is placed on Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert. German influence is blamed and paganism, and more besides. The Bible is quoted, Isaiah and Jeremiah, where in idol worship, some wayward pagan activity and practice was to put silver and gold on trees, (real silver and real gold); the adherents would bow down and worship what they had made with their own hands, which was now their god. Jesus birthday wasn’t celebrated in the Bible the “leavers” say. I wonder, did someone forget to tell the angels, shepherds, and the star-gazing guys from the East that eventually showed up, that they shouldn’t be making a fuss? “God never told us to remember Jesus’ birth, only His death”, is another reason for ditching Christmas, and “Jesus wasn’t born in December anyway”. God never told the Jews to celebrate Purim or Hanukkah but they do it anyway; and they have a jolly good family time doing so. Though these festivals are not on the scale of Christmas, I imagine someone profits commercially and financially, selling goods, food, presents etc. You see the religious Jew, the atheist and non-religious among the Jews all celebrating these festivals with great gusto, even though God never told them to. I was in Israel during Purim one year. We were staying in Jerusalem and arranged with friends from Galilee to pick us up in their bus, and drive us down to the Dead Sea for a day with them. I went in shirt-sleeves to the arranged pick-up point. While waiting it was a bit cold, so I took my coloured towel from my bag and wrapped it around my head and shoulders. There was this bearded fellow, standing in a busy road in Jerusalem, looking like I don’t know what. People were smiling, laughing, waving, honking their car horns. I think they thought I had dressed for Purim.
Commercialism is winning over Christmas and the Christ, and it is no wonder. The Lord hates the lukewarm, and the Church has been lukewarm about Christmas. Through the centuries the Church has declared Christmas to be Christian, then it is pagan, then we go back to it being Christian again, now it is pagan once more. The world sees through us and has gone full throttle to make Christmas its own. We blame the world for the commercialism, but are we Christians the real culprits in this drama? Because the Lord is submerged in worldly tinsel and Christmas crackers, and bellies are filled with beer and turkey, the Church is on the verge of pulling out again. The Church is surrendering ground because it is easier to do that than to get stuck in proclaiming Christ and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, and why Jesus is a “Son given”. When Christians eventually pack up and pull out, the void will be avidly filled by foreign gods. Diwali and the Hindu Festival of Lights would step in, no problem. Times have changed and there will be no going back.
It’s said that no conversions to Christ take place during Christmas because all the evangelists are at home with their families. That’s offered as another reason for ditching the season. I have seen plenty of Salvation Army bands and singers out and about in our towns, playing their instruments, singing and proclaiming the Word of God; as there are Pentecostal churches and other of the free churches. Even if it is actually true that no-one gets converted at Christmas itself, who knows what conversions occur later because of the Christian influence of Christmas? Look at what the shepherds did in Luke 2:16; there was a great company of the heavenly host that appeared with the messenger angel, and they were all praising God. What was that all about if it wasn’t the birth [day] of Jesus. The shepherds went to check out the message they had been given by the angel, and found it to be true. So, they hurried off to spread the word – there was nothing lukewarm about these fellows in Luke. They spread the word about the child and all who heard their message were amazed. Then the shepherds returned “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20). That’s how to celebrate Christmas! The presents and family time together, the Christmas trees and lights are fun. They are not idol worship. Christmas is about Christ – a child born, a Son given – God with us.
It wasn’t so many years ago that the Church’s mantra was to put Christ back into Christmas. The message going out by growing numbers in the gentile Church today is, take Christ out of Christmas. Christmas to these “leavers” is nothing less than a pagan festival dressed up to look Christian. Instead of celebrating Christmas, some Christians are turning to, and are celebrating Hanukkah, and some of those do so with an air of superiority – I don’t think you will find that quality mentioned among the fruit of the Spirit. I am quite puzzled by Christians in their move from Christmas to Hanukkah. Much of Hanukkah is built on legend, not necessarily fact. In an article with the title “Christ in the Feast of Hanukkah”, by Jews for Jesus, it says; “Many legends surround this historic event, but the most famous is the ‘miracle of the oil’. The legend of the oil isn’t mentioned until much later, in the Talmud. Maybe a day’s worth of oil supernaturally burned for eight days and maybe it did not”.[i] The feast is also to commemorate the rededication of the Temple. Why are Christians rejecting Christmas and celebrating a festival about a building and institution that God has finished with? Why do Christians replace Christmas with Hanukkah? The Temple God is interested in is not the one made with hands, but one made without hands (Mark 14:58).
The Bible mentions that Jesus was seen in the Temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade at the Festival of Dedication (John 10:22-23), but there is no mention of Him celebrating the festival. People simply assume that He did because it fits their theology. Jesus spoke about Himself being the Light of the world, but He made no reference to the Hanukkah menorah or the oil used. God sending His Son is not a legend; it is prophecy fulfilled. Is it possible that Christians are deceiving themselves by reading into Scripture what isn’t there?
Are we chucking the Christmas baby out with the bathwater? A well-known minister said that God told him He wants to be related to as He is now, a grown-up thirty-three-year-old Person, not a baby. That, according to the minister, is God’s perspective on Christmas – He doesn’t like it! It’s not for me to question whether or not God spoke to that leader in that way, but I don’t know of any Christians that celebrate Christmas thinking of the Messiah as still being a baby. They celebrate that God has come in the flesh – “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2). He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born to Mary – a Supernatural conception followed by a natural birth into this world. Mary was a virgin who was with Child by the Holy Spirit, and the child within her was born like any other child is born into the world – except He had a much larger audience, and He was worshipped as God. We celebrate Emmanuel “God with us”. Hebraic author and bible teacher Steve Maltz, set out a “Christmas Telling”, a biblical way of worship and teaching. You can worship and “impress upon your children” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7) the message of Christmas.[ii] It is a very useful tool to use in group or family settings, in the church, and in schools.
It is interesting that while gentile believers are rejecting Christmas, at least one Rabbi and Messianic believer and leader claims that Christmas is Jewish. He points to a time of darkness in Israel’s past, and of when God spoke through the prophet Isaiah. He said that Christmas is the day when most of the world celebrates the birth of the Messiah of Israel who became the Saviour of the world. He points out what the prophet Isaiah said in 9:2-6 that “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; upon those living in the land that lies in the shadow of death, light has dawned. For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; dominion will rest on his shoulders, and he will be given the name Pele-Yo‘etz El Gibbor Avi-‘Ad Sar-Shalom.”[iii] Christmas, according to the Messianic leader, is the most important of all the Jewish holidays because it’s a day when all the world celebrates the Messiah of Israel. This Messianic prophecy was spoken by the Jewish prophet, Isaiah, to the Jewish people about the Jewish Messiah. The Jews in turn were to share the Good News with the whole world – and they did, and will do so again. Another interesting Messianic is Rabbi Chajim Jedidjah, a Jewish believer born in 1854 in Galicia. He taught that Jewish believers should celebrate Christmas. He claimed that Jewish believers historically did celebrate Christmas; they just didn’t do it on December 25th.[iv]
Lots of Christmas songs were composed by Jewish immigrants to the USA; Isadore Beilin (Irving Berlin) in 1942 wrote “White Christmas.” This led to a burst of “hundreds of songs about the birth of the Jewish Messiah;” many of which were written by Jews. Christmas is to the Jew first, but is also to the Gentiles. The Jews in the main have not yet recognised their Messiah, and so do not recognise Christmas, even though those living among the nations celebrate Christmas as a national and cultural holiday. They do the decorations and the exchanging of presents and have a wonderful time. The Messianic leader I am speaking of said in asking for prayer for his people, “Pray that my people, who hear the beautiful songs of Christmas, will open their hearts to realize that they can celebrate the birth of Messiah with the billions of Christians who already do. Then, Christmas will truly become a Jewish holiday, shared with many Christians. Just imagine the joy when Jews and Gentiles gather to worship the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, in the last days.” He said, “We Messianic Jews see that happening now.”
Do we Gentile believers need to shake off our prejudice, and to have our eyes opened to what God is doing in and through Christmas?
Blessings and shalom
[iii] Wonder of a Counsellor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace. (CJB)