CHRISTMAS - WHAT MAKES IT IMPORTANT
Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.
1980, David L. Brown This article may be reproduced provided it is reproduced in its entirety, including this notice.
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WHAT MAKES CHRISTMAS IMPORTANT?
Some mistakenly think that December 25th was the day Christ was born. The honest truth is, that no one is exactly sure when Christ was born. The Bible is strangely silent on the issue!
Let me share with you some interesting historical notes. Did you know that the Apostolic and early churches did not even celebrate the birthday of Christ? The only recognition of his birth that I have been able to find was a century after Christ had ascended to heaven. An early churchman from Rome urged the people in his congregation to sing musical prayers, praising God for the birth of the Lord Jesus. No specific date was connected with his encouragement.
It is curious to note that Eastern Orthodox Churches believe Christ was born on January 6th and Armenian Churches celebrate his birth on January 19.
One Bible Scholar, Frank R. Klassen, believes that Christ was born on April 1, 5 B.C. In fact it is his theory that this accounts for "APRIL FOOLS' DAY," because those who remembered Christ's real birthday were heckled as "APRIL FOOLS."
Is that possible? I can tell you this from my research. .. No one is able to determine the origin of April Fools' Day! It IS possible, yet no one knows for sure.
Many Roman Catholics would like to point to Pope Liberius, who in 354 A.D. decreed Christmas to be celebrated December 25th. In reality it was the Roman Emperor, Constantine who declared December 25th to be Christ's birthday in the year 336 A.D. What was his reason for this? It was based on political pressure! Many zealous church members urged the decree.
Why December 25th? That day was already observed as a heathen holiday..."THE FEAST OF SATURN, BIRTHDAY OF THE UNCONQUERED SUN." This pagan feast began two weeks of festivities which included feasting, drinking, abstention from work, special musical presentations and the exchanging of gifts.
You will remember that Constantine was the first "Christian" emperor of the Roman Empire. As a result of a vision of the cross, inscribed with "In hoc signo vinces" which in Latin means by this emblem shalt thou conquer in 312 A.D., Constantine gave full support to Christianity and proclaimed it the official religion of the Empire. It is said he even ordered his army to ride on horseback through a river to "baptize" them into Christianity. It was Constantine's desire to "Christianize" December 25th so that people would not have to lose a holiday and could honor Christ, the Light Of The World instead of the pagan god Saturn and the Sun!
You can see December 25th is a MIXED BAG. It is NOT the day that makes Christmas Important!!!
Where did the name "Christmas" come from? It comes from the Latin "Christes Masse" of Christ's Mass. This grew out of the Roman Catholic feast day by that name in the A.D. 1 00's. "Christmas" is not found in the Bible, nor is it a prescribed scriptural holy day.
It is NOT the NAME that makes Christmas important! So what makes it important?
This "Jolly Old Wit" never existed. How did we get him then? Well, it took a lot of beating around the bush actually. Here's how it goes . . . There was a churchman named Nicholas in Myra, which is in Asia Minor. He lived in the A.D. 300's. Not a lot is known about Nicholas, except he gave his possessions to the poor children in his parish. He was "sainted" supposedly because he brought two children back to life who had been viciously murdered. ln medieval times he was the Roman Catholic Patron Saint of children, merchants and seafarers.
St. Nicholas had a special day December 6th, which coincided with an ancient Roman Holiday at which time secret gifts were given. I have been unable to find any information revealing when this Roman tradition of secret gift giving was transferred to Christmas day with "Saint Nick" regarded as the giver. But it seems that the transition took place in Colonial American times.
We do know the Dutch brought him to the American Colonies as "Sante Niklass" . . shortened and run together, forming SanteKlas or Santa Claus as we say it today. Dutch children expected the friendly fellow to visit them on the eve of December 5th and would place their wooden shoes in front of the fireplace to be filled with goodies by the next morning.
The belief that Santa Claus enters the house through the chimney developed from an old Norse legend. The Norse believed that the pagan goddess Hertha appeared in the fireplace and brought good luck to the home.
It was not until relatively recently that our present day Santa Claus really developed as we know him. In 1822 an American minister named Clement C. Moore first described Santa complete with fur-trimmed suit and his reindeer powered sleigh, for his children in a poem called "A Visit From St. Nicholas." In 1823, at the bidding of friends, Moore published his poem calling it "THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS" in the Troy, New York Sentinel. This well loved poem is the foundation of our present day Santa Claus.
As interesting as the Santa Claus is, and the history surrounding him, it is NOT SANTA that makes Christmas important!
There are many interesting traditions that surround the Christmas season. You could write an entire book on them. I want to consider just a few of them and explain their origin.
An early Roman ritual was to exchange green tree branches on January 1. They believed this would bring them good luck.
The Scandinavian people once worshipped evergreen trees. They believed godlike spirits inhabited them so people brought trees into their homes to please the spirits and seek their blessing. When the Gospel of Christ reached the Scandinavian people they made the evergreen tree part of their Christian Festivals.
The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah also mentions ancient pagans making idols out of trees and worshipping them. in Jeremiah 10:3-5. This is a reference to Asherah poles, not the "Christmas" tree.
But how did the "Christmas Tree" get to where it is today? Germans are responsible for bringing the Christmas tree to the New World. The German theologian and reformer Martin Luther (14831546) was perhaps the one who popularized the "Christmas Tree" as we know it. The tale goes . . . One clear, brisk Christmas Eve, Martin Luther was walking home under the starstudded sky. It was so wonderful. As he walked he tried to think how he could catch the beauty of that eve and bring it home to his children. Suddenly he thought of a large evergreen tree gleaming with candles. He proceeded to find a tree, cut it down and take it home to decorate it. His children were delighted.
Hence we have the beginnings of our modern day "Christmas Tree" with all the trimmings.
As interesting and beautiful as Christmas Trees are, they are NOT the reason Christmas is important!
No one seems to know how it became a part of Christmas. Originally it was a pagan symbol of erotic passions. Ancient Celtic, Druid Priests (witches of sorts) used it as a charm to symbolize erotic passions.
Primitive Britons thought it possessed magical healing properties, while early Romans regarded mistletoe as a symbol of peace and goodwill.
Somehow from all of this came our modern custom that a woman passing under it should be kissed and if unmarried it was a sign that she was soon to marry.
This certainly is NOT what makes Christmas important!
It was the ancient custom of the Norse and Anglo-Saxons to burn a huge oak log once a year in honor of "THOR -- God Of Thunder. "When these people were reached with the Gospel of Salvation in Christ Jesus, they "Christianized" this custom and made it a part of their Christmas, Yuletide traditions.
There IS more to Christmas than burning a big log ... surely!
Are these little jewels what makes Christmas special? This year Americans will spend close to $1 billion on the cards and another $500 million for mailing them! Wow . . . ouch! Yet it was not
until 1 865 that Louis Prang of Boston printed and sold Christmas Cards in the United States.
Is that what makes Christmas important?
Many will agree that this practice has gotten somewhat out of hand. Christmas is over commercialized. The "spirit of indulgence" has become the rule, with credit card bills to prove it. Christmas is the MERCHANTS DELIGHT and the CLERK'S DESPAIR, not to mention the post Christmas return rat race! $10 billion will likely be spent in America this Christmas for over 1 billion gifts, plus $150 million worth of wrapping paper. Don't even ask me about the booze that will be bought and consumed between Christmas and New Year's Day.
What would the Puritans of early America say if they saw Christmas today? In colonial times they called its celebration "Romish Rags" because of the features of paganism it involved. They even passed "Blue Laws" forbidding the keeping of Christmas, making minced pies and cooking plum pudding. A little harsh? I think so! But the big question still remains. WHAT MAKES CHRISTMAS SPECIAL?
Strip off the day, the name, Santa and the reindeer, the tree, mistletoe, Yule logs, cards and all the commercialization and what do you have left? Some would say, "Just one BIG EXCEDRIN HEADACHE!" And they would be partially right, because when it comes right down to it, for many, December 25th is just an excuse to have a party, get drunk, spend money they don't have or need elsewhere, overeat and take time off work. For others it is a time of "Christmas Neurosis," loneliness, fear, despondency and emotional stress.
Why not chuck the whole mess in the trash can?
Simply because Christmas is more than a day of traditionalism, commercialism, materialism and indulgence. CHRISTMAS REVOLVES AROUND A PERSON, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. CHRISTMAS IS A TIME TO EXALT HIM AND WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR THE WORLD. CHRIST IS WHAT MAKES CHRISTMAS SPECIAL!!!
Christmas in this day has come to include Christ, at least in some measure, despite those who would try to isolate Him from it. The world is at least aware of Christ. Millions sing Philips Brooks' lovely verses, "O little town of Bethlehem... O come to us, be born in us, our Lord Immanuel." Millions more will repeat, "unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given. And His name shall be called WONDERFUL... "
Don't abandon Christmas & don't be overcome with the evils of its abuse, rather overcome the evils with good (Romans 12:21). Look at Christmas as an opportunity to EXALT CHRIST. I am reminded of Paul's letter to the Roman believers dealing with "special days --Romans 14:5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
It is not the day that is important, nor the customs that are observed. What IS IMPORTANT is revealed in the next verse, He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it...Romans 14:6 If we are going to celebrate Christmas, we are to celebrate it in a Christ honoring way! This is what has happened much of the time concerning Christmas. When the Gospel of Christ reached pagan people they "Christianized" their traditions and redirected them to point to Christ. I do not necessarily agree with the reemphasis in some cases but I do know Christ is to be lifted up, magnified & exalted. Today we need to do the same...PUT CHRIST IN FIRST PLACE. Make HIM preeminent. because HE IS WHAT MAKES CHRISTMAS IMPORTANT.
CONSIDER WHY CHRIST MAKES CHRISTMAS IMPORTANT
The "Greatest Gift" of Christmas is Christ. Matthew 1:21 tells US why -- "...call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins." Again in Matthew 1:23 we find that he was to be called EMMANUEL, which means "God with us." Christ was born of the Virgin Mary as God in human form to save us from the guilt, penalty, power and ultimately the presence of sin. This is why the Apostle Paul referred to Christ as the "Unspeakable Gift" in 2 Cor- inthians 9:15. Even the Apostle John tells us why Christ came ". . .the Father sent the Son (Christ) to be the Savior of the world (mankind) . . for God so loved the world (mankind),that he GAVE his only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." I John 4: 14 and John 3:16. Dr. Luke wrote "For unto YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:1 1. Christ is the ONLY Savior! Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12
You do if you are a human being! Why? "Because all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God." Romans 3:23.
"The wages of sin is death; but the GIFT OF GOD is eternal life through JESUS CHRIST our Lord." Romans 6:23.
Christmas can mean forgiveness of YOUR sins and an abundant NEW LIFE for you. If you have not received Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God, God in the flesh, why don't you ask Him to forgive your sins .. why don't you repent and turn to Christ and ask Him to Save you right now?
Dear Lord Jesus,
I know that I am a sinner. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I now choose to turn from my sins and open my life and receive you as my Savior and Lord. Take control of my life and help me to be the kind of person you want me to be. Amen.
Does this prayer express your personal desire? If so, pray it sincerely and Jesus Christ will come into your life as he promised. The Bible says in John 1:12 "But as many as received him (Christ),to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name."
Oh, one other thing. Why not get your Bible out this Christmas season and read the account of Christ's Birthday found in Matthew 1:18 to 2:23 and Luke 1:26 to 2:20. Read it to the whole family too.
What makes Christmas important?
THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
"Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:21.