I have been asked by several people, "What is your problem with Christmas?" I had a lady say to me last Wednesday, "You're a minister, and you don't like Christmas?" That is a misperception, I like Christmas as long as you leave Christ out of it.
When you think about Christmas, what comes to your mind? I'm sure that most, if not all of us, have celebrated Christmas in the traditional fashion since we were born. >From my youngest memories, Christmas to me was presents, presents, and more presents. I can remember my brother and I staying up all night waiting for the appointed hour when we could rush to the living room and open our presents. I remember one year my brother and I figured up the dollar amount of all of our gifts so we could see if our parents had spent the same amount on both of us. Laurie was very young then, and we didn't care what she got. So I guess what comes to my mind when I think of Christmas is presents, opening a lot of gifts, and spending the day playing with them. Christmas brings different things to the mind of different people. There are many things associated with Christmas, such as lights, trees, presents, food, Santa Clause, family gatherings, and the birth of Christ.
So what does Christ have to do with Christmas? Most Christians associate it with the birth of Christ, and in some way see it as a celebration of his birth, but is it? Is there really anything Christian about Christmas?
What about the name, Christmas? The word "Christmas" means "Mass of Christ," or, as it came to be shortened, "Christ-mass"; a Roman Catholic Mass which grew out of a specific feast day established in 1038A.D. It has nothing to do with Scripture or the birth of Christ! The Encyclopedia Britannica, 1946 ed. says this, "Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the church. It was not instituted by Christ or the Apostles, or by Bible authority. It was picked up after-ward from paganism." So the name isn't Christian.
What about the Date: Is the date important? Was Jesus born of December 25? It is unlikely. The Bible says:
Luke 2:7-8 (NKJV) "And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night."
Shepherds living in the fields in Palestine in the month of December was unlikely. The shepherds always brought their flocks from the mountainsides and fields and corralled them no later than October 15 to protect them from the cold, rainy season that followed that date.
The date came from a pagan holiday of Saturnalia. This was a Roman observance of the birthday of the "Invincible Sun" on December 25. The celebration consisted of feasts, parades, gift giving, lighted candles, and green trees. Many of our Christmas customs have their origins in Saturnalia. This pagan holiday was Christianized in 336A.D. by the Emperor Constantine; he declared Christ's birthday an official Roman holiday. Chrysostom, the early church father, rebuked Christians for adopting this pagan holiday, but it stuck.
It is doubtful that December 25 is the birthday of Jesus Christ. The apostles and early Church never celebrated Christ's birthday at any time. There is no command or instruction to celebrate it in the Bible. As a matter of fact, the celebrating of birthdays is a pagan, not a Christian custom. The Scriptures tell us that we are to celebrate his death in the observance of the Lord's Supper, but they never tell us to celebrate His birth. So the name "Christmas" and the date December 25 really have nothing to do with Christ.
What about the exchanging of gifts? This is a major part of the Christmas celebration. Many would say that it is patterned after the wise men giving gifts to Jesus.
Matthew 2:1-2 (NKJV) "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, 2 saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him."
There is no doubt that some time had passed between the actual birth of Christ in chapter 1 and the arrival of the wise men in chapter 2:
Matthew 2:11 (NKJV) "And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh."
The Wise men didn't bring him gifts because it was his birthday, these weren't late birthday presents. The gifts were the expression of worship to the King. The people of the east never approach the presence of kings without a present in their hands. Their gift giving was an act of worship.
How much of Christmas has to do with Christ? None of it! None of it is biblical, none of it is commanded by the Lord, none of it was apostolic, and none of it was ever observed by the early church! Yet to many Christians, this is a religious holiday!
The Puritans in America called Christmas, "Romish rags," and deliberately worked on the first December 25, to show disdain for the pagan holiday. In 1644 the English Puritans passed a law making Christmas day a working day, and it became illegal to cook plum pudding and mince pie.
Christians today work hard to try to keep Christ in Christmas, but why? There is a Christian song that say's, "He's the reason for the season, He's the purpose of it all," He's the purpose for all what? The gifts, lights, Santa, what does Jesus have to do with that? Christ and Christmas have nothing to do with each other from a biblical point of view. The only way that Christ is connected to Christmas is through tradition. There is nothing Christian about Christmas. Now you can call Christmas Christ's birthday, but isn't the purpose of a birthday celebration to honor the person who's birthday it is? What is it about how we celebrate Christmas that honors Christ?
I'm not saying it's wrong for Christians to celebrate Christmas, I enjoy the holiday and all that goes along with it, but let's just enjoy it for what it is, a holiday of no religious significance, like the fourth of July or valentines day.
What about the birth of Jesus Christ, that's something isn't it? Yes, it is something, something very important, but we are never told to celebrate it. The birth of Jesus Christ is a miraculous event of great significance to mankind, but I'm afraid that associating it with Christmas and all the myths that go with it, like Santa Clause, make His birth seem insignificant. I think in our country Santa is the central figure of Christmas.
One of the most extreme examples of trying to make the traditions of Christmas Christian is seen in an issue of The Episcopal News -The Diocese of Los Angeles, written by a Reverend Bennison, the rector of St. Mark's Church in Upland, California. Listen to what he says:
There are few causes to which I am more passionately committed than that of Santa Claus. Santa Claus deserves not just any place in the church but the highest place of honor, where he should be enthroned as the long-bearded, ancient of days, the divine and holy one whom we call God.
Santa Claus is God the Son. `You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town' simply refers to God the Son slipping into the secrets of the heart as easily as he slips down the chimney of the house.
Santa Claus is God the Father, the creator of heaven and earth, in whose hand is a pack bursting at its seams with the gifts of His creation. Santa Claus is God the Holy Spirit who comes with the sound of gentle laughter with a shape like a bowl full of jelly to sow in the night the seeds of good humor. Santa Claus indeed deserves the exalted and enthroned place in the church, for he is God, Son, Father and Holy Spirit.
So there he is: God the Son, God the Father, God the Holy Spirit. I've seen him in the toy store. I've seen him in his car on the freeway. And when I saw him with his crazy beard and his baggy red suit, I saw more than the seasonal merchant of cheap plastic toys, I saw no less than the triune God.
Unbelievable! Santa Claus is the incarnation? What confusion! And from the clergy, no less. How far will people go to make the trappings of Christmas spiritual? So far that you believe Santa Claus is the incarnation of the triune God? This is one sick Catholic priest!
Why mix the birth of Jesus Christ in with all the pagan myths? It just seems to belittle the importance of his birth. It makes it seem like just another one of the fables associated with Christmas.
The Rev Martin Swan, from Greater Manchester, England said, "The Christmas season is a time of 'madness' that brings sadness and misery." He called on people to stop using Christmas as an excuse for a party. He said:
It's about time we stopped now and took a look at what we are doing. The Samaritans tell us that over the Christmas period more people attempt suicide than at any other time, more families break up, there are more arguments and people can't stand it. There's so much pressure to conform to this mystical day.
Let's not pretend we are doing it for the birth of God's son. It's just a party. I don't want Christ's name being associated with so much harm and hardship to people.
I'm not going to use Christmas as an excuse for a party. I'm not saying that we shouldn't have a party or enjoy ourselves or celebrate, but let's not pretend we are doing it under the name of God, because I think that's a travesty.
Because of our celebration of Christmas, the birth of Christ has really become a hopeless muddle of confusion. The humility and the poverty of the stable are somehow confused with the wealth and indulgence and selfishness of gift giving. The quietness of Bethlehem is mingled with the din of shopping malls and freeway traffic. The soberness of the incarnation is somehow mixed with the drunkenness of this season. Blinking colored lights somehow have some connection to the star of Bethlehem. Cheap plastic toys for little kids with which to play out their follies are mixed with the true value of the gifts given by wise men. Salesmen somehow get mixed up with shepherds. Angels are confused with flying reindeer, one of which even has a red nose. The pain of childbirth is mixed with the parties. The filth of the stable is confounded with the whiteness of fresh snow. And then there's Mary, Joseph, Perry Como, and Bing Crosby. And so it goes
The problem is that many believers are carnal or marginal in their spiritual life and they get caught up in the rat race and secularization of the season. People spend far more than they can afford. They seek relief from their burdens and seek happiness in the glitter and merry making of the holidays, rather than in the person of God's Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. They look for the season to give joy, rather than the Person of Jesus Christ. They expect from the season what only God can give. As a result, depression and suicide reaches its peak during the Christmas season and immediately following it.
The birth of Jesus Christ is too important to confuse it with Christmas. Let's look at the Biblical account of Christ's birth and see if we can understand its significance to us:
Matthew 1:18 (NKJV) "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.
Mary had been "betrothed"- solemnly promised in marriage - to Joseph. Betrothal among the Jews was not like our present day engagement. It was far more serious and binding. The bridegroom and bride pledged their "troth" meaning" "faithfulness, loyalty" - to each other in the presence of witnesses. According to the Old Testament regulations, unfaithfulness in a betrothed woman was punishable with death (Deut. 22:23-24). A betrothed couple was considered as legally married, even though they did not live together or have any physical relationships. This period normally lasted twelve months and served as a period of protection to establish each partners fidelity.
Our text says, "....before they came together..." - in other words it was during the betrothal period, before they began living together and before there were any sexual relations, that "....she was found with child of the Holy Spirit." Mary discovered her pregnancy while she was still a virgin, they had not yet married in the full sense of the term. Mary knew immediately the cause of her condition, because the angel, Gabriel, had told her that this would happen.
Luke 1:34-35 (NKJV) "Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" 35 And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God."
Think about that, ladies, you're engaged, but you have never had sexual relations with a man, and you find out you're pregnant with God's Son. How would you respond? It would have been difficult for Mary to protect her reputation. What would she tell people? "I've never been unfaithful, the child I'm pregnant with is God's Son." How many people do you think would believe that one? Would you believe it? This was no natural pregnancy, it was miraculous, it was the divinely conceived birth of God in human flesh.
The virgin birth was prophesied in the Old Testament, God had told us what he was going to do, it would be a supernatural act; something that had never happened before and would never happen again. Several Old Testament passages speak of this virgin birth:
Genesis 3:15 (NKJV) "And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.""
"Her seed" is an expression used nowhere else in Scripture. Only one time in the history of the world did a woman ever have a seed, which normally is ascribed to the man:
Jeremiah 31:22 (NKJV) "How long will you gad about, O you backsliding daughter? For the LORD has created a new thing in the earth; A woman shall encompass a man."
In other words, a woman on her own shall develop a man:
Isaiah 7:14 (NKJV) "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel."
The truth of the virgin birth is very important. For Jesus to be God, He must be born of God. Joseph, a man, and Mary, a woman, cannot produce God. God cannot be born into this world by natural human processes. There's no way He could be God apart from being conceived by God.
Naturally, Joseph became aware of Mary's condition. His reaction is described in verse 19:
Matthew 1:19 (NKJV) Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
Just imagine how Joseph felt! Men, how do you think you would respond if the girl you loved and were engaged to marry told you she was pregnant and you had never had a sexual relationship with her? Joseph's natural response was that Mary had been unfaithful to him. I'm sure he was deeply hurt, how could she do this to him?
Because he was a righteous man, Joseph, therefore, could not marry Mary who was now thought to be unfaithful. And because such a marriage would have been a tacit admission of his own guilt, and also because he was unwilling to expose her to the disgrace of public divorce, Joseph, therefore, chose a quieter way, permitted by the law itself. The full rigor of the law might have led to Mary's stoning, though that was rarely carried out in the first century. Still a public divorce was possible, but Joseph was unwilling to expose Mary to such shame. Men, would you be so kind in a situation like his?
Matthew 1:20 (NKJV) But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
Though Joseph had decided on the action he needed to take, he found it almost impossible to carry it out. While he was mulling these things over an angel appears to him in a dream and imparts to him the information that had already been given to Mary, namely, that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not the natural way, that Mary has conceived. Joseph must have been relieved, Mary had not been unfaithful after all! The faith of both of them must have been very strong to believe this incredible message of a virgin birth of God's Son:
Matthew 1:21-23 (NKJV) "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." 22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us."
This has got to be the greatest miracle, the most fantastic truth recorded in the pages of Scripture, God became a man. The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie, stare, wiggle, and make noises. Needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation, God becoming a man. The apostle John put it this way:
John 1:1 (NKJV) "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
It's interesting that John begins his gospel account with those same words of Gen 1:1 - "In the beginning..." See, he doesn't begin the gospel with baby Jesus. In essence, he says, "If you want to understand Jesus, we must go back further than the manger." For, "He was in the beginning with God." But not just with God. He was God. All you have to do to figure that out is read the next couple of verses:
John 1:2-4 (NKJV) He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
Jesus is God, the Creator of all things, and the giver of all life:
John 1:14 (NKJV) "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
The Word became flesh. The word "became" is the Greek word ginomai, which signifies entrance into a new condition. Look at the contrast between verse 1 and verse 14.
Verse 1 says, "....the Word was God..." Verse 14 says, "....Word was made flesh..."
Verse 1 says, "....Word was with God..." Verse 14 says, "....Word dwelt among us..."
The word "flesh" in verse 14 is the Greek word "sarx," it refers to all which is essential to human nature. What John is saying is that God became one of us in every respect except for sin. Jesus Christ had the mind, will, and emotions of a man, not just a body. Jesus Christ is the God-Man.
You might ask, "Is it a big deal that we believe that Jesus Christ is God? Yes!
1 John 2:22-23 (NKJV) Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
Jesus Christ is God and to deny this is be under the wrath of God:
John 3:36 (NKJV) "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
Several weeks ago at Scope there was an ecumenical prayer service with Jews, Muslims, Catholics and Christians. Such ecumenical events promote syncretism - the mingling of Christianity with other religions in the belief they are all equal. Christians, listen up, we have nothing in common with those who deny that Jesus Christ is God.
Matthew 7:13-14 (NKJV) "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 "Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
The gate that leads to eternal life is narrow - only through Jesus Christ can you have eternal life. All other religions lead to Hell!
God the Son has become a man. That is the meaning of the incarnation, but what is its purpose? Why did God become a man? The answer is found in verse 21 of our text:
Matthew 1:21 (NKJV) "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins."
He was born to die! The purpose of the incarnation was specifically that Jesus Christ might die for our sins.
The Bible says Jesus Christ came into the world to save us from sin. That's the reason for His coming. Sin is ugly, it brings great pain. When Leonardo da Vinci was preparing to paint his masterpiece, which most of the world is aware of, entitled "The Last Supper," he sought long and diligently for a model who could be for him the face of Jesus Christ. At last he located a chorister in one of the churches of Rome who was lovely in life and features, a young man by the name of Pietro Bandenelli. Years passed and the painting remained unfinished. And da Vinci was able to finish everything but the final character who was Judas Iscariot. He could not find a face that represented to him the degradation of a Judas.
So he looked long and hard to find a man whose face was hardened and distorted by sin. And at last on the streets of Rome he found a beggar with a face so villainous that he shuddered when he looked at him. He hired the man to sit as the model for Judas Iscariot and painted his face on the canvas. When he was about to dismiss the man, he said, "By the way, I have not asked your name." To which the man replied, "My name is Pietro Bandenelli, I also sat for you as your model of Christ."
The sinful years of life had so disfigured the man's face that that which was once the fair beauty of youth now was debased. And that's what sin does to everyone, the whole human race. It is the degenerative power in the human stream that makes man susceptible to disease, disaster, illness, death and hell. And it is the reason that Christ was born. Every broken marriage, every disrupted home, every shattered friendship, every argument, every disagreement, every evil thought, evil word, evil deed, every good deed undone, good thought unthought, good word unsaid can be attributed to sin. And that is why in Joshua 7:13 it is called the "accursed thing". It is compared in Scripture to the venom of snakes and the stench of a grave. And anything that is that sinister and that powerful and that totally debilitating for the whole human race must be dealt with if God, who was infinitely holy, is to bring man to Himself, thus Christ came into the world to deal with sin.
The ultimate purpose was that by that death as a man, a sinless man, he may redeem man. The Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death, we have all sinned, and therefore, all deserve to die, and spend eternity in hell. Jesus died for us, he paid our sin debt, he took our penalty. As a sinless substitute he satisfied the just demands of a holy God.
If you trust in what Jesus Christ has done for you, you will receive the forgiveness of your sins and spend eternity in heaven. If you reject what Jesus Christ has done, you will spend eternity in hell:
John 3:36 (NKJV) ""He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is much too important to confuse it with all the myths and traditions of Christmas. The incarnation was God's gift of love to us:
John 3:16 (NKJV) ""For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
2 Corinthians 9:15 (NKJV) "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"
Our Lord's birth was a fantastic miracle, it was God becoming man. But our Lord never told us to celebrate it. The purpose for his birth was that he might die for our sins.
Charles H. Spurgeon, the great English preacher, used to say, "Look, Christmas is here, we might as well learn to live with it and take the opportunity to exult Christ."
I think that is good advice, we'll never be able to change the traditions of Christmas, and the world will always in some strange way associate it with the birth of Christ. We might as well learn to live with it and take the opportunities to exalt Christ by sharing with all who will listen the reason why Christ was born. He was born to die for the sins of man, and his birth should remind us that we are all sinners and in need of a Savior. That little baby in the manger grew up, he lived a sinless life and died a substitutionary death for sinners.
Have you put your trust in Him? Will you trust His work on the cross to pay for your sin debt? By faith in Jesus Christ you can receive the greatest gift of all, eternal life.