MERRY CHRISTMAS – HAPPY HOLIDAYS?
You know the drill, it’s Christmas. It’s time to gear up, start spending the money and decorating the house. Then, spend some more money running amok buying gifts. Next, plan your visits (or be plan on being alone?). Go to all the Church Christmas programs (or watch on television?) You know, hurry, rush, have fun, and try and not stress!
It’s a holiday for some and for others it’s ‘celebrating the birth of Jesus’.
Let me quote you what the Bible says about “Christmas”:
The Birth of Jesus Christ
Matthew 1:18, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Okay. Now, let that sink in before we go on. Talk about ‘stressful’, huh?
Next: The Visit of the Wise Men
Matthew 2:1, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people, Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
The Flight to Egypt
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Herod Kills the Children
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Political intrigue, deceit, murder plots and miracles. And this is the ‘Christmas story’?
Maybe we should look at this account through the eyes of Luke for a more relaxing narrative:
The Birth of Jesus Christ
Luke 2:1, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
“ And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” 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 among those with whom he is pleased!”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
Have you ever heard the term, “syncretism”? Syncretism is the
- Reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, as in philosophy or religion, especially when success is partial or the result is heterogeneous.
- The merging of two or more originally different inflectional forms.
- The attempted reconciliation or union of irreconcilable principles or parties, as in philosophy or religion.
I really hate being considered a humbug or a scrooge, but I guess it was inevitable:
Pagan customs and holidays, like those involved with the holiday we now call Christmas, came into the Christian church primarily through the Catholic Church’s efforts to adopt then “Christianize” certain holidays not found in the Bible – so they could attract more people in their pews on Sunday.
The Catholics began to syncretize pagan celebrations and holidays after the fourth century A.D. when the Edict of Milan openly endorsed Christianity as a religion. Pagan festivals celebrated around the time of the winter Solstice have far more to do with ‘Christmas’ than does Christ’s birth, which occurred in the fall.
In order to save space here (and to get on with the point) here are a couple of links to websites which give a fuller explanation of the ‘paganization of the Christmas’ we practice today: The pagan origins of Christmas and A BBC video “The astonishing pagan origin of Christmas.
Now, my point? Well, I suppose you get where I am going, or have gone. So, let me just reprint the salient points from the scriptures:
- “They fell down and worshiped him.
- Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts.”
- “The glory of the Lord shone around them, and
- They were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them,
- “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
- 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 among those with whom he is pleased!”
When our sons were children, we would explain the differences between the ‘secular’ pagan celebration that takes place in December and culminates on December 25th each year, and Christmas, the celebration and remembrance of the birth of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
We chose to, or perhaps I should say ‘succumbed to’, the society and culture around us. We ‘played the winter solstice holiday game’ called Christmas, but we did emphasize the birth of Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as our reason for the season.
Listen, I know, as you know, the pressures to conform the societal culture and to this world. We have tried to resist and in retrospect, at times we have succeeded, at other times we failed. Would we change anything? Sure, I guess. But who really knows. We cannot start over. We only have today. So, as you think on this, pray and seek God, His wisdom and do your best. Celebrate the birth of Jesus as your Lord and Savior. It is great news!
Even if you can’t quit it, all together, (the hurry, shop, spend and stress), just slow down and take a breath. Maybe do half as much as feel others expect of you or that you expect of yourself, then next year do one fourth as much? Get your life back from the world and its demands.
Take a day and focus on Jesus, what He went through and what He has done for you.
Let’s all celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus, together!
Your Brother and Friend,