It’s Christmas time again! This is the season when we remember and celebrate the miraculous birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But some Christians wonder, should we? Although the exact origin of Christmas and many of its traditions remain obscure and somewhat unknown, it likely began as the replacement of or substitute for a pagan holiday. Yikes!!! That doesn’t sound good...
Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival held in mid-December to honor the god Saturn. It was originally characterized by all sorts of sinful and disgraceful customs. Sadly, these immoralities made the celebration wildly popular among the people. When the Roman Empire later adopted Christianity as its official religion during the 4th century AD, many of its citizens wanted to continue the annual observance of Saturnalia. In order to appease them to some degree, the church consented to their wishes but changed the celebration’s name into “The Feast of the Nativity”. The church also designated the final day of the feast, December 25th, as the birthday of Jesus Christ (though this date is probably inaccurate). It hoped to Christianize the holiday and make it more wholesome and virtuous.
Over time, the observance of Christmas has evolved from its early pagan roots. Most people who celebrate Christmas today have never heard of Saturnalia or even know what it is. The once close association between the raucous Roman festival and the Christian holiday has long since faded away. Unfortunately, there are millions of nonbelievers today who still celebrate Christmas without recognizing and joyously memorializing the birth of Jesus. To them, it is seen as merely another secular holiday. Even they, however, are not paying homage to or worshiping the mythical god Saturn. Thus, the modern celebration of Christmas - even among non-Christians - has nothing to do with ancient practice of Saturnalia.
That said, should we as Christians celebrate Christmas knowing its background and likely emergence from a pagan holiday? By doing so are we giving credence to heathen practices or endorsing false worship? This is the central issue of today’s sermon titled, “Should Christians Observe Christmas?”
I. GOD COMMANDS HIS PEOPLE TO CELEBRATE & MEMORIALIZE IMPORTANT EVENTS
In the Mosaic Law, God commands the people of Israel to observe certain annual feasts and festivals for historic, agricultural, and/or religious reasons (Lev. 23). Passover is an annual reminder of how God delivered the Hebrew children from bondage in Egypt. It is followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of First Fruits. Pentecost celebrates the end of the grain harvest, and is also called The Feast of Weeks. The Day of Atonement is when the High Priest makes sacrifices on behalf of the nation. It is preceded by the Feast of Trumpets and followed by the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths). All of these observances are prescribed by God in the Old Testament.
On the night of His arrest, Jesus instituted an ordinance for the Christian church to follow called the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:22-25, etc). He blessed the bread and wine, comparing it to His body and blood, and the disciples partook of it. Jesus commanded them to observe this supper regularly, as a memorial to His sacrificial death on the cross and a proclamation of His imminent return. Though He did not name a specific date on which to observe it, clearly Jesus was not opposed to marking special occasions with ceremonies and celebrations.
God is not opposed to observing holidays. In fact, He actually endorses the practice of celebrating and memorializing important events. That said, the birth of Jesus Christ is one of the most momentous occasions in human history. It is certainly worthy to be remembered and celebrated by people everywhere!
II. GOD IS ABLE TO REDEEM THAT WHICH IS SINFUL AND MAKE IT GOOD
Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, mankind and all of creation has been placed under a curse. This curse is the just result of sin. The earth itself and all of nature has become corrupted. This is evidenced in numerous ways by hurricanes, floods, wildfires, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and numerous other natural disasters. This world is plagued with famine, pestilence, and disease. Creation is fallen and longs for redemption (Rom. 8:22). One day, God will restore it with a new heavens and new earth.
Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, all people are born with a sinful nature. As a result, every person sins and falls short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Everyone has gone astray and is deserving of God’s judgment. People are, in and of themselves, wicked and detestable in the LORD’s sight. But still He loves them, and His Son sent Jesus to die in their place for the remission of their sins. Those who accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior receive forgiveness for their sins and are made righteous in God’s sight. This is the primary reason Jesus came to earth - to redeem sinful men and reconcile them to God.
God is in the restoration business. He masterfully takes that which has been tainted and defiled by sin and redeems it. The LORD delights in making broken and shattered things whole again. He changes the worthless into the priceless. Jesus brings the dead to life. He makes old things new. He illuminates the darkness of this world with glorious and brilliant light. Surely God is able to transform a holiday from its immoral origins into something beautiful, holy, and good. Perhaps by doing so, He gives it an even greater meaning...
III. GOD IS CONCERNED ABOUT WHY WE DO THINGS, NOT JUST WHAT WE DO
There are many activities specifically named in the Bible as sin. These are actions that violate God’s holy standards and commands. There is no rightful or justifiable excuse to engage in these types of behaviors. They are always wrong. They include such things as idolatry, murder, stealing, and adultery. However, many of the things people do are not specifically categorized as either right or wrong. Often times, the determining factor is not the act itself, but rather the reason for doing it.
Most behavior begins in the heart and mind. A person’s deeds are merely an external expression of inward motivations. God knows and judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). He is often less concerned about what a person does and more concerned about why they do it. For example, the practice of one’s spiritual gifts becomes meaningless if not motivated by love (1 Cor. 1:13). Obedience should always be accompanied by a proper attitude. God isn’t necessarily pleased solely by one’s actions, but rather the condition of their heart.
With this in mind, why do most Christians celebrate Christmas? What compels them to do so? Why do they spend countless hours decorating and preparing for this special day? Is it to worship a pagan god or revel in sinful behavior? Absolutely not! Rather, they wish to pay tribute to and memorialize Jesus’ miraculous birth. The Christian traditions and customs of Christmas are all meant to express, in some form a fashion, praise and worship to the Newborn King. This seems to be a pretty noble motivation.
In the end, the Bible neither commands Christians to observe Christmas nor forbids them from doing so. Therefore, they are free to celebrate it or not celebrate it in keeping with their own conscious (Rom. 14:5). In either case, they should not condemn or disparage others who choose differently than they do.
Here are 3 truths or principles that lend support to those who wish to celebrate Christmas:
- God is not opposed to remembering and celebrating important spiritual events - which would certainly include the birth of Jesus Christ.
- Though Christmas was probably derived from a pagan festival, God is able to redeem it and make it into something wonderful, new, and worthwhile.
- Christmas and all of its traditions are celebrated, by most Christians, with rightful motivations and a pure hearts intent on honoring the LORD.