As we tick off the days to the celebration of the incarnation, the war on Christmas can be distracting. My granddaughter has a Jehovah’s Witness girl in her class who has been busy telling the other kindergartners about the evils of Christmas celebration. Comedian Jon Stewart and FOX News personality Bill O’Reilly have been sparring about the “War on Christmas.” The stories around the nation about governors and businesses raised the profile of the controversy and Mediaite ran the story Bill O’Reilly Does Epic Segment On The ‘War On Christmas™’. The New American joined in the coverage with ”Atheists Continue War on Christmas”.
Last Christmas, the American Atheists targeted the Christmas holiday in a billboard just outside of the Lincoln Tunnel in Weehawken, New Jersey. The $20,000 billboard depicted the Nativity scene and read, “You KNOW it’s a Myth. This season, celebrate reason.” The group claimed that the sign was designed “to encourage existing atheists who are going through the motions of celebrating Christmas to stop.”
It is not surprising that unbelievers would attack any holy day celebration by Christians, particularly one which remembers that God took on human nature and incarnated in human flesh in the form of a baby, the most vulnerable among us. There are also some within the church who are fighting the war on Christmas by trying to make the case that it is a pagan celebration and therefore a violation of the commandments. Michael Schneider wrote, Is Christmas Christian?, Rick Meisel produced, `Tis the Season … FOR Pagan Worship. There are others and some within the Messianic Jewish Movement take a similar position. Biblical Archeology Review addressed the issue in How December 25 Became Christmas
Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception.10 Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25
Lutheran Pastor, Dr. Richard P. Bucher, has produced a very well done 4 part series, Christmas is Not Pagan which is a fairly in-depth response to Schneider, Meisel and others within the church. I won’t duplicate his work but to recommend it for your consideration. For me the answer is fairly simple by answering a few questions. First, is God against His people celebrating His works in history? The obvious answer is no. After all, He commanded and outlined celebrations in the Old Testament for the nation of Israel specifically so they would stop periodically and be reminded of works which God had done for them. Second, although there is little evidence that the Christmas celebration is rooted in paganism, even if it was, would that be sufficient reason for Christians to cease celebrating it? Perhaps. It depends on the Christian. In Romans 14:1-9:
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
The question comes down to, “Why are you doing what you are doing?” One who is weak in faith is so influenced by their former paganism that in good conscience they cannot participate. They tend to have a sin focus which is difficult to overcome. Others have a Son focus and dedicate what they are doing to glorifying Him in their observation. This theme comes up in 1 Corinthians as well. In 1 Corinthians 8 the Apostle discusses the issue of meat sacrificed to idols and in verses 7-13 he wrote:
However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.
If anything has had paganism tied to it, those weak in faith may have a hard time with it. Even if it hasn’t had pagan origins, if they think it did they will struggle with it. Those to recognize and practice liberty in Christ have a more difficult task, that is, to be kind those who are weak in faith. Bless them for not celebrating if that is what they believe they must do. Be kind in letting them know that we don’t agree but respect them for their not celebrating.
There is little evidence that there is a connection between Christmas and pagan worship but it is also an issue of conscience. For me this is a season which seems to raise the openness of many unbelievers to the gospel. It is a time which brings my family and I to reflect on God becoming man to live a life which we could not live, to present His incarnation as a sacrifice for us in order to make peace with God a possibility for those who accept the salvation He secured on our behalf. That is worth celebrating!