Should Christians celebrate Christmas? Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is coming. But along with the Christmas season, come those who criticize and bash it. It is easy to respond to attacks from atheists and Christian cults such as the Jehovah Witnesses that don’t believe anything should be celebrated; however, often Christians have a hard time responding to those who have bought into the propaganda stemming from spurious works such as James Frazier’s “The Golden Bough” 1James Frazier. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. (London, UK: Macmillian, 1890). and believe that anything related to Christmas, and even the origin itself, has pagan roots.
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Each of the spurious claims could be addressed; however, the question is not whether people used one element or another in pagan religions. After all, pagans made sacrifices on altar, used incense, and burned lamps with oil in worship, all of which are proscribed by God in the Old Testament for use in Jewish worship. It isn’t about the trappings, it is about the purpose and the focus.
And I will argue that based on the example set by the Feasts of the Lord that every Christian should feel free to celebrate Christmas because it fulfills three purposes.
- The first purpose is to look to the past and remind us what God has done for us
- The second purpose is to look at the present and give thanks for what he has given us
- The third purpose is to look to the future and build the community.
Purpose #1 of Celebrations: Remember What God Has Done
The first purpose is to remember what God has done for us in the past. In Leviticus, 2Leviticus 23 contains instructions for the Feasts of the Lord. God gave Moses instructions for feasts days that were to be observed by the Jewish people: the spring feasts which included Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, First Fruits and Shavout, and the Fall feasts, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles.
The spring feasts were a continual reminder of God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from their bondage in Egypt.
The purpose of holy days, or holidays, are to be a reminder of what God has already done. At Christmas, we look back to that day when the angels were able to finally announce that the long looked for Redeemer had come.
Purpose #2 of Celebrations: Give Thanks to God
The second purpose of the times of celebration was to give thanks to God. Throughout their growing and harvest season, the timing of the feasts was designed to give the Jewish people an opportunity to thank God for the harvest he had given them and to acknowledge that He is owed our first and best. Deut 16:15 ESV states that the purpose is to remind them that it is God who blesses us with a bountiful harvest and gives us success in all our work. 3“For it is he who blesses you with bountiful harvest and gives you success in all your work. This festival (the festival of shelters) will be a time of great joy for all. Deut 17:15
The purpose of holidays is to give thanks to God for what he has given us. We don’t bring our grain and oxen to the temple anymore, but as a church particularly at Christmas, we bring gifts to share with those in need. It reminds me of 2 Corinthians 9:11b-13
“And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. 1 So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.” 2 Corinthians 9:11-13
Purpose #3 of Celebrations: To Build Community
The third purpose of the feasts was to build community. The Jewish people were to come together at the appointed times to Jerusalem as one. It wasn’t just about the sacrifices to God, it was about togetherness.
Generations are bound together by tradition. Those traditions give us a sense of stability, continuity, and even identity. It helps us know who we are as a people, where we come from, and where we are going. At Christmas, we look back and remember who we are, who our Savior is, how he came and what his purpose was. We share that and build community and look to the future and our future hope when Jesus will return again.
Biblical Purposes of the Feasts of the Lord
To recap, the three Biblical purposes of the Feasts of the Lord and the purposes of celebrations are:
- To look to the past and remember what God has done for us.
- To look at the present and thank God for what he has given us
- To look to the future and build community.
Are we only to remember what God did for the Jewish people over 3,500 years ago? Of course not, and the Jewish people did not believe that either. Purim and Hanukkah, among holidays on the modern Jewish calendar, are celebrations to remember other times when God delivered them.
The Origin of Purim
Purim is a celebration in memory of God’s salvation of the Jewish people from Haman’s death decree recorded in the book of Esther. There seemed to be no escape, but God did the impossible and made a way. 4Jewish Holidays: Purim. Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed December 10, 2016. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/holiday9.html
The Origin of Hanukkah
If you ask a Jewish person today what Hanukkah is and why they celebrate it, they will tell you it is an eight day celebration called the Festival of Lights and it is in memory of, when under the dominion of the Seleucid Empire, a small group of Israelites rose up under the leadership of Judah Maccabee and against all odds, reclaimed Jerusalem and the Temple in 165 B.C 5“What is Hanukkah?” Chabad. Accessed December 10, 2016. http://www.chabad.org/holidays/chanukah/article_cdo/aid/102911/jewish/What-Is-Hanukkah.htm
We don’t always pay attention to the books of history and literature of the Apocrypha such as 1 and 2 Maccabees. However, 8 day celebration was observed at the time of Jesus. 6 Gordon Franz. “Jesus Celebrates Hanukkah!” Associates for Biblical Research. Published November 17, 2009. Accessed December 10, 2016. http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2009/11/17/Jesus-Celebrates-Hanukkah!.aspx The custom was, and is today, to light a candle on a special menorah each day in memory of God’s supernatural provision of oil in the Temple dedication. One of the hot topics debated among rabbis 7S. M. Samuels. “Chanukah, and the Academies of Hillel and Shamai.” Jewish Mag. October 2004. Accessed online December 10, 2016. http://www.jewishmag.com/85mag/shamaihillel/shamaihillel.htm at the time of Jesus was whether you start with one candle and increase the light each day or begin with all eight lit and decrease the light.
The Hanukkah menorah is an illustration of the Kingdom of God. When we accept Jesus, the Light of the World, and let our light shine empowered by the Holy Spirit, that light spreads.
It is about remembering victory against all odds and that with God, all things are possible. 8 Anna Rudnitsky. “From Nazi Germany to Beit Shemesh, A Family Menorah Continues to Glow.” Breaking Israel News. Published December 13, 2015. Accessed December 10, 2016. https://www.breakingisraelnews.com/56093/from-nazi-germany-beit-shemesh-family-menorah-continues-glow-inspiration/#u7eehQQARdT2fB8G.97
The Feasts of the Lord and Christmas
So the first purpose of holidays is to look to the past and remember what God has done for us. And on Christmas we remember that Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth and humbled himself to live as man.
The second purpose of holidays is to take time in our present to give thanks to God for what he has given us, and on Christmas we thank God for the greatest gift he has given us, which is his own son. John 3:16 says “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.”
The third purpose of holidays is to look to the future and build community. And on Christmas, even the least evangelical church in the body of Christ throws open its doors, welcomes everyone to come, and has the same message the angels gave to the shepherds on the hillside, when they said “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people, for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-14)
The birth of Jesus is a time of joy, it’s a day to remember, and a day to mark. It’s the day that hope was born.
So if God instructed the Jewish people to remember the day he delivered them from a one time oppressor, then how much more should the followers of Jesus remember the day when the Word became flesh and came to earth who came to deliver all people from all oppression once and for all.
What Shall We Do?
Should we give up Christmas to the bashers? Should we let them steal our joy, silence our song, and hide our light?
No! We should let our light shine.
If you are a Christian and Jesus is your Lord and Savior, this should be the time that everyone knows it. We should know all the words and all the verses to Silent Night, O Come Emmanuel, and Joy to the World, and we should be ready to sing it loud and clear at every opportunity.
And if someone asks you, “What is with you?” We should be ready to tell them the reason for the hope that is within us. We should be ready to tell them who are Savior is, and what this time means, and who he is to us, what he has done for us.
Not a Christian?
If you’re not a Christian, and Jesus is not your Lord and Savior yet, today is the day.
Christmas doesn’t just have to be a time that you get together with friends, have good food, and get gifts, even though those are all good things. You can have the greatest thing, you can have Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Christmas can be a day of so much more than just a time of fellowship.
Christmas is the day when Jesus came for you.
The day he came to be your Lord.
The day he came to be your Savior.
So that you can have peace,
So that you can have joy,
So that you can have hope in the darkest circumstances,
So that you can know that he is always there with you.
Jesus came because he loves you and he wants to be your Lord and Savior.
Christmas doesn’t have to be just about the presents or just about the tree, you too can be a friend of God. You will be able to sing Joy to the World and know that it is not just a wishful thought but know that someday . . . . Not just some . . .
But all will sing “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”
There will be peace on earth.
There will be goodwill among all men.
|↑1||James Frazier. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. (London, UK: Macmillian, 1890).|
|↑2||Leviticus 23 contains instructions for the Feasts of the Lord.|
|↑3||“For it is he who blesses you with bountiful harvest and gives you success in all your work. This festival (the festival of shelters) will be a time of great joy for all. Deut 17:15|
|↑4||Jewish Holidays: Purim. Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed December 10, 2016. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/holiday9.html|
|↑5||“What is Hanukkah?” Chabad. Accessed December 10, 2016. http://www.chabad.org/holidays/chanukah/article_cdo/aid/102911/jewish/What-Is-Hanukkah.htm|
|↑6||Gordon Franz. “Jesus Celebrates Hanukkah!” Associates for Biblical Research. Published November 17, 2009. Accessed December 10, 2016. http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2009/11/17/Jesus-Celebrates-Hanukkah!.aspx|
|↑7||S. M. Samuels. “Chanukah, and the Academies of Hillel and Shamai.” Jewish Mag. October 2004. Accessed online December 10, 2016. http://www.jewishmag.com/85mag/shamaihillel/shamaihillel.htm|
|↑8||Anna Rudnitsky. “From Nazi Germany to Beit Shemesh, A Family Menorah Continues to Glow.” Breaking Israel News. Published December 13, 2015. Accessed December 10, 2016. https://www.breakingisraelnews.com/56093/from-nazi-germany-beit-shemesh-family-menorah-continues-glow-inspiration/#u7eehQQARdT2fB8G.97|