There we were, sitting around the tree at my sister’s house several years ago on Christmas Day, opening our presents. That’s when a knock at the door interrupted our festivities. My brother-in-law opened the door, only to be greeted by two nicely dressed sectarians pushing their religious literature on us.
“Oh, come on,” said my relative, who was more than a little peeved. “It’s Christmas Day. Don’t you guys ever take a break?”
“No,” came the reply. “We’re Christians 365 days a year.”
The implication was hard to miss. Real Christians don’t celebrate Christmas; they go door to door on December 25th to pass out tracts. (I must have missed that lesson in seminary where they talked about smug evangelistic techniques.)
We were made to feel like pagans in our own home that day, practicing some sort of mirthful divination with gifts and glitter. After all, the whole family was facing a spiffed-up forest idol while disemboweling the wrapping paper. What else could we be doing but deeds of darkness?
“Put that in your corncob pipe and smoke it,” was their attitude. We were thumpity thumped for acting like heathen.
I beg to differ.
No, scratch that. I’m not begging. I’m telling.
It’s true—there’s no command in the New Testament for believers to observe a holiday called “Christmas.” And, of course, there’s no command against it, either. But since one good snark deserves another (Prov 26:5), here’s a brief reply with a bit more zing.
If you want to accuse me of observing a non-biblical holiday, then you have to accuse Jesus of doing the same thing. That’s right, you just reduced Jesus to being a sinner by your own priggishness. Bravo. That’s exactly what the religious leaders in the first century tried to do over and over again. It didn’t work for them, either.
John 10:22-23 tells us, “Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.” The Feast of Dedication is Hanukkah, the celebration commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple. That holiday arose from a conflict between the Jews and the Seleucids during the Intertestamental period, followed by Israel’s eventual triumph over her enemies.
In other words, Hanukkah is not one of the original seven feasts God told Israel to observe in the Torah. It developed much later. Yet here’s Jesus at the temple on this particular day, mixing it up with others who had likewise gathered for the celebration. Was it wrong of him to do so? Of course not. And, quite significantly, we have no indication Jesus ever castigated anyone for celebrating this extra-biblical holiday. (I see your “argument from silence” and raise you another.)
If Jesus had been a “good Christian”—like those two guys at our door—he would have avoided the temple altogether that day just to make a point, similar to how “good Christians” in our day hide themselves in their basement on Halloween night with the lights off. (“That’ll show the world!”) But no, Jesus was right there at the temple in the thick of things on Hanukkah. And he was perfect 365 days a year.
Previously at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus declared himself to be the light of the world (John 8:12, 9:5), fulfilling everything the Feast of Tabernacles had ever pointed to. And here he is now at the Feast of Dedication, this time answering questions put to him about his identity and pointing to his own miracles to back up those claims (John 10:25, 32, 38). Jesus didn’t subvert or avoid the extra-biblical holiday, he leveraged it.
Now, if a certain military victory can be celebrated by God’s covenant people without divine penalty, how much more the prophesied entry of God’s Son into the world on that first Christmas? After all, he came to win humanity’s ultimate victory over sin and death, an event for which Paul told Gentile Christians, “Let us keep the feast” (1 Cor 5:8), even though that feast had already been rendered legally non-binding by the New Covenant (Heb 8:13). Paul knew there was abiding value in annualizing God’s mighty acts of deliverance in salvation history.
The conscience, then, is unbound on such matters. It’s no longer an issue of right and wrong, but one of wisdom. One of winsomeness. One of preference. One of cultural connection and instruction. In the end, it’s adiaphora.
So, here’s how I see it. All of history had been moving toward that moment when God the Son would take on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ (Gal 4:4). The prophets foretold it with ever increasing anticipation. An angel from heaven announced it when it finally took place. And then a company of angels joined in to praise God and mark the occasion (Luke 2:10-14). Matthew and Luke open their Gospels with special attention to the infancy narratives, and the rest of the New Testament keeps alluding to it.
Ultimately, Jesus’ birth was “good news” for the entire world (Luke 2:10-11). But some people want to start acting like sanctimonious fussbudgets around me when I choose to make merry and join the angels in marking the occasion once a year. They always fail. I just can’t find it in myself to take the good news and turn it into bad news. Nor have I ever believed that finger wagging is sign of holiness, especially on matters where Jesus remained silent. I need something more powerful than manufactured scruples to fix what’s wrong with me (Col 2:20-23).
Those same people will take the names of ancient Germanic deities to their lips every time they say “Tuesday” (Tiw’s day), “Wednesday” (Woden’s day), “Thursday” (Thor’s day), and “Friday” (Freya’s day), and give themselves a pass on it. But let me build a fire in the hearth on Christmas morning, and I get accused of paganism because of some obscure, long-forgotten practice involving a yule log in Scandinavia.
After you read the entry for “yule log” in Wikipedia, be sure to look up “genetic fallacy,” too. Either that or start using different names for the days of the week, including Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, too, lest you open yourself up to the charge of worshiping celestial bodies. Psh.
Listen, if you as a professing Christian don’t want to celebrate Christmas, fine. I have nothing to say about it either way. You’re free in grace to do as you please. But you’re not free to judge me or anybody else for keeping it, either (Col 2:16), so, knock it off.
After those two missionaries left our house that Christmas, they got in their car and sped away. I wonder if they had any chapter-and-verse support for driving an automobile. I suspect not. (See, nobody likes to be on the receiving end of snark, do they?)
In any event, the prophet Isaiah said of the Christ event—the centermost epoch in human history—“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” (Isa 60:1).
My translation: “Lighten up.”
Image Credits: blurayauthority.com; ibelieve.com; thecripplegate.com; kvne.com.