by Rayola Kelley
Christmas is almost upon us again. It seems like just yesterday that we celebrated Christmas in 1999. Not only did we have the bombardment of the typical Christmas rush and commercialism, but we were also faced with the Y2K speculations. Therefore, last December had some trepidation mixed in with the celebration rush. This December we can be thankful we survived Y2K and celebrate without that particular speculation.
But there is something else many Christians have to wade through during this time of the year and that is the debate that surrounds the practice of Christmas. Not only does this debate bring on its own form of holiday blues but it also can cause spiritual indigestion to innocent parties.
I am sure you have heard the debates. They go like this: “Jesus was not born on Christmas day but around the Feast of Tabernacles.” “In reality Christmas is a pagan holiday and the Christmas tree is idolatrous because it can be traced back to the Dark Ages when the Druids started worshipping trees.”
Because of these debates some Christians have disposed with Christmas altogether. Others disbanded certain Christmas practices while maintaining other elements of it. For example, a person in this group might throw out the tree along with the decorations but keep the presents.
First of all, let me state I do not care if a person celebrates Christmas or not. The problem is that the people who give up Christmas to be righteous can become self-righteous and unfairly judge other Christians on this one basis. It is for this reason that I am taking the time to discuss this subject.
In my struggle to understand the debates and help confused Christians wade through them, I have come to some conclusions.
People mishandle the things of God in two ways:
- they take the things of God such as Jesus’ birth and add pagan rituals and traditions to it; or
- they take worldly things and tack Christ on them to make them acceptable.
The first method perverts the things of God and makes them appear pagan while the second way serves as a cloak to hide man’s self-centeredness as he continues to uphold an appearance of righteousness.
The challenge for Christians is to find the real Jesus in the midst of paganism, darkness and man’s interpretation. They must separate man’s additions to the things of God and come back to the spirit and purity of God’s truth. Believe it or not this is easy to do. All you have to do is believe the Word of God.
One of the problems is that zealous Christians have a tendency to overkill. Overkill is a popular term for taking something simple and analyzing it to death or running it into the ground so much that it becomes a blob of confusion. The fastest way for a Christian to overkill something in God’s Word is to get technical about it.
I see this type of overkill constantly happening in Christianity. Some Christians become so paranoid about being right that they swat at a gnat and swallow a camel. In other words, they end up missing the whole point and their conclusions become a blur of dead-letter nonsense because it lacks the right spirit.
This debate over the date Jesus was born fits into the category of dead-letter nonsense. The reason I say this is because no one really knows for sure when Jesus was born. The fact that God did not see fit to put it in His Word shows that it is of little significance.
The important issue surrounding Jesus’ birth is not what day He was born on but that He came into this world. His birth and life fulfilled hundreds of prophecies and marked the hope of redemption for all men.
The celebration of Christmas causes me to take stock that Jesus did come into this world. Whether He was born December 25th or September 7th, matters little to me. After all, my salvation does not hinge on my getting His birth date right but on my recognizing God came into this world in the flesh as a human baby.
I have also realized that an object such as a Christmas tree in itself is not pagan or evil. What makes any object evil is the meaning or emphasis a person puts on it. The Druids may have worshipped trees but I have not yet heard of any Christians worshipping their Christmas trees.
A Christmas tree is simply a decoration. It may stand in the center of the celebration but it is not the subject of adoration.
After I became a Christian I began to look for Jesus within my culture. He is hidden within every culture so those who search for Him can find him. The Holy Spirit was faithful enough to reveal Him to me in this manner. For example, I found Jesus in the Christmas celebration. The Christmas tree came to symbolize the cross of Christ. It simply reminded me that Christ’s cross must stand in the middle of my life to experience the fullness of God’s mercy and grace.
The gifts underneath the tree represented those who have humbled themselves at the foot of the cross and received the bountiful gift of eternal life. The presents also represent the diversity of people who receive salvation and are enriched by the grace of God that flows freely from the cross.
The rest of the decorations remind me of God’s blessings and the beauty they bring to a person’s life. The lights remind me of Jesus, the light that came into this dark world to light the lives of men.
This brings me to the heart of God. What is really important to Him? In our attempts to be right, we still can be wrong before Him if we don’t understand what is significant to Him. And what is vital to God is that we properly respond to His Son.
In the two accounts of the Christmas story found in Matthew 1 and Luke 2 one can observe five different responses to the birth of Jesus. I have shared these responses in the past but I feel it would be proper to do so again.
The first response is that of the innkeeper. His inn was too full and busy for him to properly respond to an insignificant unborn baby. He never realized this child was the only hope for man’s redemption. Sadly, this is true for many people, even Christians. Our hearts and lives can be full of various things that can crowd Jesus out of the center of our spiritual lives. As a result, He will be pushed elsewhere, causing us to miss the fullness of His life.
The second reaction came from King Herod. He gave the impression he wanted to worship this new king, but in reality he wanted to destroy Him. After all, this new king posed a threat to his earthly reign and he secretly refused to share his throne with another.
There are a lot of people like Herod. In the religious realm, they put on their religious cloaks to imply they want the Son of God to be part of their lives but behind closed doors they refuse His Lordship. They resent His truth, scoff at His commands and adjust His words to fit their own personal criteria. In the end, they secretly try to destroy His work and life anywhere they encounter it in order to replace it with their own agendas.
The third response came from the shepherds in the field. They were minding their own business when the heavens came alive with activity. The angels declared the birth of the long-awaited King or Messiah, pronouncing peace and good will to all men.
This so represents the Son of God. He usually steps on the scene of normalcy to forever change the face of people’s lives when they least expect it.
These shepherds who were considered the lesser class in their society were entrusted with the greatest treasure of all, the good news of Jesus’ birth. Can’t you hear Jesus words echo through the corridors of time: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3).
The fourth group is represented by the three wise men. The wise men are remembered as the last to find Jesus. It matters little as to when a person finds Jesus, just as long as he or she does. These men had not only traveled far to find Him but they brought gifts to honor Him.
The journey for the desperate sinner who is seeking Jesus is much like the wise men. It can prove to be long and hard. Unlike the wise men, such a person has nothing to offer to his or her Lord and Savior but a broken life. But to God it is the most precious treasure of all. Hear the promise of God:“And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
The final group are those who were unaware that the heavens were declaring Jesus’ birth. They never heard the shepherd’s declaration or learned about the wise men’s search. They sat in their small, dark worlds ignorant that the greatest event in history took place in their midst.
These people stood in darkness and condemnation. Great judgment and sorrow were about to come upon them but because they were dull of hearing, they would be lead to the slaughter without warning. An event after Jesus’ birth served as a foretaste of this impending judgment. It can be summarized this way: “In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not”(Matthew 2:18).
The question is how are you responding to Jesus? Are you like the innkeeper, too busy with no room for Him? Are you like Herod, giving lip service but your heart is full of evil and self-serving agendas?
My real hope is that you are like the shepherds, excited about the Gospel and sharing it with others. If not, I pray you are seeking and like the wise men, I know you will find Him.
But if you fit in any of the wrong categories, you need to know time is short and today is the day of salvation. Hear the call of repentance and submission to the Son of God.
Make sure your response to Jesus is the right one so that during this season you can rejoice with the angels and declare the good news with the shepherds.
We want to thank you for the gifts of your friendship and support. We want to leave you with this timeless declaration that announced the arrival of the Prince of Peace: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”