Comment sections on nearly every post about Christmas on Christian blogs and websites inevitably have the one “righteous” person who takes it upon him or herself to scrooge up the workings with statements like, “ Christmas is just a pagan holiday… repent, “ or some permutation of a “good news” slander of the heathen Christmas tree owners of the world. I am always so appreciative of those “truth warriors” who stand guard over the internet, waiting for any signs of loving Jesus in the wrong way. They make for great patience-building in my life and the lives of other readers.
While it is important to get things right when it comes to matters of Biblical and Gospel importance, I wonder if sometimes our desire to be “right” also gets in the way of our Spirit-enabled life of being people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. There is a big difference between getting the Gospel right and being “right.” Too many times in my life I have gotten the truth correct, but have been oh-so-wrong in my delivery of the truth. All this goes to say… some questions and answers may not be as important as others. So, what to make of December 25th?
I’m not going to give a long, drawn out history of why December 25th was chosen by the Catholic Church back in the 4th and 5th Centuries as the day of celebrating the birth of Jesus. It is unlikely that Jesus was actually born on December 25th, although it is entirely possible. (see Gene Veith’s article where he argues for December 25th) Some say it was the spring. Great articles by Paul Maier and Andreas Kostenberger propose a late November date. (Kostenberger has also co-authored an excellent resource, The First Days of Jesus.)
So, how did we come to celebrate on December 25th? Here are two possibilities. First, just about every known people and religion of the day celebrated some sort of holiday around that time. From Jewish Chanukah to Pagan Winter Solstice to Germanic Yule to Roman Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birth of the Unconquered Sun); the sheer number of celebration days with their trees, decorations, yule logs, mistletoe and feasts seem to point to a season of celebration to which Christians added the birth of Jesus as a counter-cultural event and possibly even an escape from the pagan holidays for early believers. Veith also argues that the Birth of the Unconquered Sun, started by Emperor Aurelian in A.D. 274, was actually pagans imitating Christians who were already celebrating the birth of Jesus on that date, while Kostenberger and others argue that Christians wanted to celebrate the TRUE unconquered Son on that day, redeeming the day from pagan Romans. Pagans imitating Christians… Christians imitating pagans. Who knows? The second option centers around the date “accepted” by the Western Church of March 25 as the Annunciation or Immaculate Conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb. December 25 is 9 months later and thus celebrated as the birthday of Jesus. Regardless of the possible reasons for the date, the Church calendar was set in the West during Constantine’s reign while the Eastern Church held onto the date of January 6 for some time. (The Armenian Church still does.)
So… does it matter if Jesus was born on December 25th? Should Christians celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25th as a special, set apart day?
No… and yes. Here’s why.
3 Reasons Why Celebrating December 25th Shouldn’t Matter to Christians
- Dates don’t really matter. The Apostle Paul does not look too kindly on observing certain days and months and seasons and years as special. (Galatians 4:9-10) To tie the life of a Christian too closely to any of the “elemental” things of the world is folly. In essence, whether Jesus was born on December 25th or not does not necessarily make the date December 25th more or less important.
- Our faith doesn’t rest on Christmas. Christmas, with all of its social, religious, and celebratory trappings, is nothing but a human tradition. We don’t need Christmas… we need Christ. As Andreas Kostenberger rightly states, our faith rests instead on “the virgin-born, divine-human Son of God, who came to save sinners by dying a sacrificial, substitutionary death on the cross and rose again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3–4).” [i]
- Jesus didn’t stay a baby. “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40) A faith that only focuses on the baby in the manger will miss the Savior Who lived a sinless life of righteousness and died a sinner’s death of substitution. Too many people run to churches on Christmas to celebrate the baby, but never deal with the perfect Son of God Who embodies grace and truth and makes demands upon the lives of His followers. If December 25th is the only meaningful day to you, then you won’t live as a follower of Jesus every day.
3 Reasons Why Celebrating December 25th Should Matter IMMENSELY to Christians
- Every day matters… so December 25th The days of our life here are but a vapor. And yet that vapor, though fleeting, is immensely important. To spend time scrooging up December 25th for others with our drivel about what the world is celebrating when we have a greater reason to celebrate, only denigrates the greatness of the Jesus we celebrate EVERY day. So what if the world gravitates towards jolly red-suited benefactors or shopping or feasting? So what if the world celebrates a pagan ritual? For the believer, EVERY day is a HOLY-day. And every day is a day to “redeem the time.” MOST IMPORTANTLY… December 25th offers Christians an incredibly important day to proclaim the excellencies of Jesus Christ to a world that is looking for something to celebrate. Why not use December 25th as a day to give them the only One worth celebrating?
- Without Christ, we have no object of our faith. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)This day of celebration called Christmas is not a fruitless exercise. It is an act of faith that the Son of God is our only hope. It is an act of faith that Jesus is our Good News of Great Joy. It is an act of faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the promise of God fulfilled. And so the season of Advent is immensely important to the witness of the believer in our world. The way we live in expectation of the coming of Jesus bears witness to the object of our hope and faith, the greatness of our Anchor, Jesus. The way we live in expectation of the promises being fulfilled in Jesus’ second coming at this Advent and Christmas season demonstrates that we have no other hope in this world than Jesus Himself. One danger of Christmas is that we lose Christ in the midst of the hustle and bustle… but an equally malicious danger is that we so argue for being “right” about our ideas about Christmas that we forget to share the Good News of Great Joy… Christ Himself.
- The baby in the manger is worthy of worship. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20) Arguments about whether Christians should celebrate Christmas on December 25th never quite seem to get back around to the fact that we should be celebrating the baby in the manger as the fully worthy, holy, divine, human, Son of God, Savior of the World. The baby is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace. The baby is our Emmanuel, God with us. He is all of these realities in all their fullness, just the same as the miracle working Jesus, the crucified Jesus, and the risen Jesus. He deserves to be worshiped not just by angels, shepherds, and wise men… but by everyone. And to have a day set apart to celebrate corporately, united as one body of believers, one of the most astounding miracles of all time; God becoming a baby, God taking on flesh, the Second Person of the Trinity condescending to us; seems to me to be an excellent use of a day. And December 25th is just such a day. A day for all of us to marvel at the incarnation, to move past our familiarity with Jesus and once again wonder at the miracle that, as Andrew Peterson sings,
But the baby in her womb, He was the maker of the moon, He was the Author of the faith, That could make the mountains move[ii]
So, for all you December 25th haters out there who are waiting to comment and steal all the joy in Whoville, here is the bottom line… wouldn’t your time be better spent worshiping Jesus with us because of His worth and proclaiming the excellencies of Jesus with us because He is good news of great joy? If you will give us December 25th as a day when you will join us to celebrate Jesus, I promise we will celebrate Jesus on whatever day you think is His birthday. Oh, and Merry Christmas!
[i] Andreas Kostenberger w/ Chuck Quarles, “Was Jesus Born on December 25?” http://www.biblicalfoundations.org/was-jesus-born-on-december-25-with-c-l-quarles/
[ii] Andrew Peterson, “Labor of Love,” New Spring, 2005.