Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? Part 2

Yesterday, I shared some of my thoughts on the problem of commercialism in Christmas. I also mentioned two other arguments I have seen against Christians celebrating the holiday - the date, December 25th and the holiday not being mandated by God. Here are some of my thoughts on why these two arguments have not convinced me to stop celebrating Christmas.

I don't know when I first heard the argument that Christmas was just a "pagan holiday" and that Christ was not actually born in December. It has been years since I first heard that. This year, I actually was researching all the winter holidays that I knew of - Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas. In the meantime, I found that these are not the only holidays celebrated, many are just less well-known. In doing this research, though, I learned more about December 25th and actually felt like it was a great reason to keep celebrating.

Yes, both Easter and Christmas have their roots in both timing and symbolism in the pagan festivals of the Romans. Why the change in their calendar, though? Because one man came to believe in Jesus and his life was changed. Here is the account given in the "Christmas Mourning" article by Keith Green from 1979:
In the third century A.D., a wonderful thing happened. Constantine, the Roman emperor, became a Christian. For almost 300 years the Christians had been praying for their emperor's salvation. Nobody believed it was true! But then came the royal decree...Christianity was made the religion of the state. Everyone was strongly urged to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and only deity. At the risk of seeming uncooperative (and believing that it would be safest politically and socially), almost everyone in the empire made "professions of faith" in the new religion. This, of course, delighted Constantine.

After a while there arose a great problem. What were they to do with all their other gods? And what about all the great feasts and celebrations, especially the winter solstice and spring equinox?
Constantine was smart enough to know that not every convert was a true believer of the truth he had embraced. In an effort to keep the peace, he declared two "religious" holidays that fell on the same dates as the original celebrations.

Two things stand out to me in this historical account. First, Constantine was redeemed, saved from hell. His life was so changed, he did not want his pagan gods anymore. There are many areas of the world today that will gladly accept Christ in addition to their other gods, but this man gave up his worship of other gods for his belief in Christ. Second,we will never know, this side of heaven, which of the people in the empire were truly converted, but these two times of year were now focused on Christ. What better times to evangelize and let people know what the emperor's belief was all about. A pagan holiday was turned into a chance for evangelism and spreading of the gospel. It seems to me a great reason to still celebrate. Christ came here to redeem us, not one of us is righteous or holy. Neither is any day, in itself, holy or worthy of celebration. What makes this day worthy of celebration, to me, is that Christ even redeemed it from a focus on pagan gods.

This brings me to the last argument mentioned yesterday, "True Christians" would only celebrate God-given holy days, such as the feast of tabernacles spoken of in the Old Testament. If we look at the word "holiday," we know that it comes from the roots for "holy day." I do not know enough to argue whether Christmas should be considered a "holy" day or not. Even after visiting Wikipedia, it seems that not many others can agree on what should be considered "holy". Even if you look at the definition of the word in the Webster's dictionary, you could use the word to defend either side of the argument. However, Jesus came to fulfill the law, we cannot. We are under his grace because he came as a man and died for our sins. Maybe someday my convictions will change, but I believe that celebrating this truth is a good thing. For this reason, I celebrate Thanksgiving and Easter, even St. Patrick's day makes me celebrate when I see the amazing ways Jesus transformed his life and used his life to the glory of God.

I can certainly understand why someone might feel convicted not to celebrate Christmas, as they may feel that Constantine gave in to political pressure and declared some holidays to appease men. I can also understand why people may not want to celebrate for some of the other reasons I have read about. These are not my convictions, though. Even after reading the articles, arguments, and historical accounts, I still see cause for celebration. Would I define these "holidays" as "holy days"? I don't know. I guess it depends on what definition you use for "holy". I don't think it really matters. There are many people who do not know the day they were born, but they pick a day to celebrate their birth. If God wanted us to know the specific date Christ was born, He would have made it known. As it is not, I think it is fine to choose a fixed day to celebrate the event. When we focus on Jesus and celebrate him, I believe God delights in celebrating with us. I can't see God being disappointed in our recognition of his mighty hand in sending his son.

"For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Lord, may my heart stay pure before you as I celebrate the birth of your son. Be ever with me and steer my heart in your truth. "See if there is any wicked way in me" (Psalm 139:24) and help me to celebrate as you would want me to. Thank you for this opportunity to see your hand in history, and for giving me cause for joy as I see the transformed hearts of men throughout history. I surrender my will to you and am willing to make any changes you ask of me in this area of my life. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

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