It is the time of year when we start to see things like “Happy Birthday Jesus” on church signs and bulletins. We’ve discussed before the importance of making sure we do things God’s way rather than man’s way, and, even among the secular world, many do understand that what is typically portrayed as the “Christmas Story” is not what happened.
The Evolution of Christmas
Starting in Matthew 1, we have one account of Jesus’ birth. Luke chapter 2 does much the same with a few additional details. Many elements are familiar, such as the shepherds whom the angels appear to. These come to Jesus’ birthplace. Eight days later, He is circumcised. At least forty-eight days later, He was presented in the temple, and the wise men visit after this, seeing a young child in a house – Jesus is now at least two months old.
The actual year, season, and date are completely unknown. Judging from New Testament clues, the “first Christmas” could have been in late autumn. The climate was mild in that the shepherds spent the night with their flock.
Man has romanticized and built up ritual around this story, and there was even early controversy in the church over what date Christmas would be observed on. (Some churches rejected 12/25 in favor of a January or March observance. The date was actually picked to serve as competition with pagan rituals observed on 12/25. Saint Nicholas passed away in early December around 400 AD, and his death was commemorated with the exchange of gifts.
Paul & Holidays
We have many traditions that have pagan or religious origins (All Hollow’s Eve, birthday candles, St. Valentine’s Day, etc.). In Galatians 4:8-11, Paul basically says that observing special days is not wrong, but these should not be seen as religious acts of worship. There is a separation between secular and religious celebrations.
Christ’s Established Memorial
In contrast to the unknowns surrounding Christ’s birth, we are given explicit details regarding the observance of Christ’s death. We are told when to observe; we know how we should observe; we know the manner and attitude to be held. God’s word makes it clear that the focal point of Christ’s life is His death rather than His birth.
In I Corinthians 2:11, Paul explains that we know nothing of God except what the Spirit has revealed to us. I don’t know what you are thinking or what makes you happy unless you tell me. The same is true for God. Leviticus 10:1, II Samuel 7:5, and I Kings 12:33 all serve as examples of individual who step outside of God’s desires, and it is not pleasing to Him when this happens.
Isaiah 7 records God asking Ahaz to request a sign confirming His faithfulness to His people. Ahaz feigns false faith in denying a sign, but the Lord provides a sign nonetheless. The sign is Christ, the virgin birth, the one named Immanuel, and God tells of a wonderful kingdom established and ruled by this Messiah. Isaiah 9:6 tells us of a Wonderful Counselor, a Mighty God, an Everlasting Father, a Prince of Peace whose reign will never fail. It is a grand story, but it is not the “Christmas Story.”
Christ’s birth was glorious. His coming and birth is the subject of many prophecies. It is appropriate for us to study and revere His birth, but we should do this at any time – not just once a year. We cannot disregard what God has commanded and substitute our own traditions and assume we please God. We have not the authority to dictate to the Creator what we feel should be pleasing to Him when He has told us what He desires from us. Christ’s coming and death cured the problem of sin, and we should be always thankful for that gift. Let us celebrate Christ the way God wants us to – every day of our lives.
lesson by Tim Smelser