Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?
For many people, the Christmas season is their most favorite time of the year. They love music and traveling and being with relatives. They love the aromas and the decorations and the singing and the Christmas dinner. Kids love being out-of-school and opening presents, and it’s a time filled with emotion and for many people, it’s like the song says, “The most wonderful time of the year.” But, for other people, it’s a difficult time of the year. It’s a time that they feel particularly lonely. You know, for those who have lost loved ones it’s a really hard time, because it’s a time they’re used to being together and they remember Christmases from years gone by, and it makes it particularly hard for them. But for New Testament Christians it can be a very confusing time, because they see signs that say, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but they know they can’t find that in their Bibles. And they see plays talking about the birth of Christ and they’re not sure what’s appropriate and what’s not, and they want to enjoy the holiday but they don’t want to do anything that’s not right. And so it can be very disconcerting. Today we’re going to deal with some of these issues. I want to talk about some misconceptions about Christmas. We’re going to discuss three of them. First, misconceptions about the birth of Christ. Second, misconceptions about the meaning of Christmas. And then third misconceptions about the celebration of Christmas.
Misconceptions About the Birth of Jesus
Alright, first let’s talk about some misconceptions about the birth of Jesus. Now there are actually a lot of these. Some of these you’re probably familiar with and perhaps some of these you’re not. But the story of Jesus’ birth is usually told something like this: It’s about two thousand years ago on the evening of December 25th, and Mary rides into Bethlehem on a donkey, urgently needing to deliver her baby. But although it’s an emergency all the innkeepers turn them away, and so they deliver the baby Jesus in a stable. Then the angel sing to the shepherds, and afterwards three kings arrive on three camels and they worship the quiet peaceful newborn baby. You know, the only problem with this story is it’s almost entirely wrong. You see the story of the birth of Jesus has been told and retold so many times in plays and poetry and books and movies that people have a very distorted view of the true events. Of course, the only accurate account of what happened is found in the Bible. And so we want to examine some of the misconceptions and see what the Bible actually has to say. And some of these details are important, others are not so important, but the point that I want us to get is that all too often what people believe is based not on what the Bible actually says but on what they have always been told. And so, to clarify what the Bible actually says, what we need to do is look at the Bible. If you have a Bible and you’d like to follow along go to Luke chapter 2. Alright here is the first misconception about the birth of Jesus. Number one: the story says that Mary road into Bethlehem on a donkey. Well here’s what the Bible actually says, Luke chapter 2 and verse 3. Let’s read it. “So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into 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 wife who was with child.” Now that’s all it says. I didn’t read anything about a donkey. Now it’s possible that she rode on a donkey, but the Bible doesn’t say that. It could have been a camel. There are various possibilities of what it could be but it’s interesting what the Bible actually says and what people think the Bible says. And sometimes, if people would take the time to look, they’d be quite surprised. Number two. Let’s look at another. Was Jesus born the same night that Mary arrived in Bethlehem? Again, the Bible doesn’t say that. This is part of the story that’s traditionally told, but in reality they might have arrived weeks earlier. The Bible simply says, in Luke chapter 2 and verse 6, “So it was that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.” That’s all the Bible says, which doesn’t mesh well with the traditional story. Here’s the third one, number three. Is it really the case that a hotel keeper, an innkeeper, told Mary and Joseph that there was no room for them in the inn? Well, the truth is the Bible doesn’t even mention an innkeeper. I know that almost all denominational Christmas plays include one, but it’s not in the Bible. In fact, it’s more likely that Mary and Joseph would have stayed with relatives, not in some sort of hotel or Bible times motel. Now, you might be thinking well doesn’t Luke chapter 2 and verse 7 say that there was no room for them in the inn? Yes it does and we’re going to say some more about that in a minute in the next point. Number four, was Jesus born in a stable? Friends, would you be surprised to learn the Bible does not say that? You might say, “Well then where do people get that idea?” Here’s what the Bible actually says and this is the only place in the Bible that addresses this subject. Luke chapter 2 and verse 7: “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” The Bible doesn’t mention a stable. It simply says that they laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. Now, the word in the original language that’s translated as inn is the word kat-al-oo-mah. The word means a guest chamber. It can mean a a lodging place or an inn. Many translators have chosen to translate as inn and so we have a certain picture that is painted in our minds. But this same Greek word appears two other times in the Bible, once in Mark 14:14 and once in Luke 22 and verse 11. But in both those times, it is translated as a guest room and according to Bible archaeology experts, Jesus was probably born in the house of relatives but probably somewhere outside the normal living quarters outside the house in guest chambers. The Bible in basic English says there was no room for them in the house. Young’s Literal Translation says there was not “for them a place in the guest-chamber.” And so what tradition has told us simply does not match what the Bible actually says. Well, here’s number five and again this is not a big deal but it goes to show how people perpetuate myths about the Bible. The song “Away in a Manger”. The song says, “The Baby awakes but little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.” Now I don’t know what to say about that except the Bible does not say it. It’s a pretty song but the baby might have been screaming at the top of his lungs. We simply don’t know. It’s just something that we’ve inserted into the story. Here’s number six: Did three kings riding camels actually come to the birthplace of Jesus? Well, in actuality the Bible doesn’t say that any kings or camels came to visit the baby Jesus at the time of His birth. It does say that wise man came, but first it doesn’t say that there were three of them (we don’t know how many). And secondly, the word for wise men in the original languages is plural, so we know that there were at least two but that’s all that we know. There’s even tradition that gives the names of the wise men but that’s totally without biblical evidence. Well here we are number seven: was Jesus born on December 25th or was He born in the month of December at all? You know, although it’s not impossible it’s is highly unlikely. First, the Bible doesn’t tell us when Jesus was born. Luke chapter 2 in verse 11 says, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” But the Bible doesn’t give a specific date. In fact, the biblical evidence seems to point to a time other than December or January. The fact that the shepherds were in the field would indicate that it was probably not December. You know, December is cold in Judea. It’s rainy and it would have been unlikely that the shepherds would have been in the fields. Also, Jesus’ parents were going to Bethlehem for the Roman census and this is not the time of the year where they would normally take a census because it was difficult to travel the winter weather would cause icy roads and difficult conditions and it wasn’t practical, and it would have been self-defeating. So the question is: When was Jesus born? Can we speculate about the time? I think we have a clue in Luke chapter 1. Jesus was 6 months younger than His cousin John the Baptist and so if we can determine when John was born then, we can get an idea about the birth of Jesus. Luke chapter 1 verse 5 says, “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.” Now, make note of that. Zachariah is in the 8th course, the course of Abia and so because the feast day he would serve on the 9th week. So if you start with the first month the Hebrew month of Nissan, which corresponds to our month of March almost exactly, then he would serve right about May, maybe early May, and he would serve for one week. Now verse 23: “And it came to pass”, and watch this carefully, “that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived…” Now follow this, the course of the priest begins in the month March the 8th course which would be the 9th week puts Zacharias serving in May. As soon as he leaves from his serving, he goes home and his wife conceives and she’s carrying John the Baptist. Jesus was conceived six months later from that, which would put his conception in about November. And then, Mary his mother carries the Christ child for nine months. Now that would put his birth sometime around the month of August and would explain, by the way, why the shepherds were out in the field caring for their sheep. It was still warm weather. In fact, I read in one source that it said a probable time for travel, the more commonly accepted time for travel, would be late September, the time of the annual Feast of Tabernacles. And so the indicators would say that it’s more likely that Jesus was born in September or maybe August not December or January. And so, there’s a lot of misconceptions surrounding the birth of Jesus and tradition is very different from what the Bible actually says.
Misconceptions About Christmas as a Holy Day
Alright secondly, I want to discuss some misconceptions about the meaning of Christmas. Of course, one of the greatest misconceptions about Christmas is that it is a holy day. And for some people it’s one of two days in the year when they will actually set foot in a church building. But the Bible doesn’t attach any religious significance whatsoever to Christmas. I saw a sign on a denominational church building near my house that said “Joseph and Mary received the first Christmas present.” But you know, the fact is, Joseph and Mary had never heard of Christmas. The word Christmas doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible. and the concept did not arise until a long time after the Bible had been completed. If you look back at history, what you find is that before Jesus came to this Earth, there were people who were practicing mid-winter festivals. And the Mesopotamians, for example, had a 12-day celebration in which they gave gifts to one another and they had feasting and friends would get together, and it had a connection to their pagan gods. And these feasts and celebrations would honor these pagan gods. Compton’s Encyclopedia goes on to say that other nationalities also did this. The Romans did it, the Egyptians did it, the Chinese did it. And this was before the birth of Christ. So what happens then is in 325 AD, about the time of the Emperor Constantine, the groups that would eventually become the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, they put their heads together and they said there are all these pagan festivals going on at this time of the year and we need something to compete with it so that our people aren’t drawn into these festivals. And so we need to make an alternative for Christians. And so they came up with Christmas. It had nothing to do with the actual birthday of Jesus. It had to do with creating a holiday to give another outlet instead of these pagan festivities. It was not a holy day and it did not come from God. Now, a second misconception about the meaning of Christmas is that it’s a time when Jesus Christ is re-sacrificed in the observance the Lord’s Supper. Now the word Christmas actually comes from two words Christ and mass. And, of course, the term refers to the gathering or the mass of the Catholic church. It is the Christ mass, it is a special mass whereby Jesus Christ is re-sacrificed in the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Now this particular mass is performed in commemoration of the birth of Christ, but the Bible never tells us that Christ is re-sacrificed. In fact, Hebrews 9:28 says He died once He was sacrificed only once. There is no more sacrifice for sins Hebrews 10:26. And in the Bible, we are told to celebrate, not the birth of Jesus, but rather the death of Jesus. And we’re to do this every first day of the week, Acts 20 and verse 7, and we do it by the partaking at the Lord’s Supper.
Misconceptions About the Celebration of Christmas
Well, thirdly we want to discuss some misconceptions about the celebration of Christmas. Now there are several of these we want go through. Number one: It is sinful to celebrate Christmas. Now we’ve already established that Christmas is not the birth of Jesus. We’ve already established that the Bible doesn’t tell us to celebrate that day. It’s not a day of religious observance, but the question is: “Is there anything wrong with getting together with family and exchanging gifts?” Certainly there’s not! Is there anything wrong with putting lights on your house or singing Frosty the Snowman? No, there’s nothing wrong with that. You see, though Christmas had a religious origin, and some people celebrate that way, many of the traditions associated with Christmas have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. Why do we hang stockings over the chimney? Why do we have mistletoe or yule logs or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer? You see, these things aren’t religious and I’m not perpetuating a religious error by participating in them. Now I’m not going to put a nativity scene in my yard, or put a star of Bethlehem on top of my tree, but to celebrate the secular traditions of Christmas, that doesn’t violate any Christian principles. Well number two. Here’s a second misconception. Some people have argued that Christmas is of Catholic origin and that using the word and celebrating it in any sense is therefore wrong because it perpetuates that error. I would object to this for at least two reasons. First, the word itself no longer refers to a specific Catholic mass it now refers to a holiday that’s celebrated all over the world both by Catholics and non-Catholics, both by believers in God and even by atheist. And so the word has taken on a different meaning and it’s inconsistent to reject a holiday based on the origin of the word. You know, if we did that we couldn’t use the word Sunday because it comes from the sacred day in the Sun. We could not use the word Thursday because it refers to the day of the war god Thor and we could say the same thing about other days and about the names of our months as well, but for us Thursday is not today we honor Thor, the war god It’s the fifth day of the week and we could say the same thing about Christmas. To us Christmas is not a mass for Christ. It’s a day for joy and gladness and warmth, when friends and loved ones take an occasion to meet and mingle and exchange gifts and good wishes and they relax in a season of happiness and good will. Well, a third misconception about the celebration of Christmas: some people will say it is sinful to put up a Christmas tree and they will even say that the Bible specifically says so. You know, when someone believes that the Bible specifically addresses an issue, I appreciate their conscientiousness in following it because that’s what we’re all about is following the Bible. And I especially appreciate a person who will deny himself fun or be the the odd man out in order to conform to the Bible. That’s the right type of the heart. But, you know, the passages that are usually brought up that supposedly condemn the Christmas tree, they’re really not referring to a Christmas tree at all. One of those passages is Jeremiah chapter ten and verses 2-4. Let’s read the passage and then we’ll talk about it. “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple.” Now, does that refer to a Christmas tree? And friends, the answer is no, it does not. This chapter is talking about the subject of idolatry. The Jews were living amongst the heathen people and they were starting to pick up some other practices. Listen to verses 1 and 2. The Lord tells them, “O Israel, learn not of the way of the heathen.” In other words don’t take to idolatry. He continues, “And be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.” You know, this might be talking about astrology or the signs of the Zodiac, but more probably it’s a reference to eclipses and comets and meteorites and things that the ancient heathen believed to be signs. And He’s telling them don’t be caught up in these things. Verse 3: “For the customs of the peoples are futile. For one cuts a tree from the forest. The work at the hands of the workmen with the ax. And they decorate it with silver and gold.” Friends, this is the way they made idols. It started with a man going into the woods and cutting down a tree, and he would bring it back and he would cut out a section of this tree and he would cover it with silver and he would cover it with gold and he would form an idol. And then he would take nails and he would secure his idol so that it wouldn’t fall over. And then he would worship it. And the Lord is showing the absurdity of idol worship. It had absolutely nothing to do with the Christmas tree. Well number four, a fourth misconception about the celebration of Christmas, and this one’s changing gears just a little bit, but I think it’s important we say it a fourth misconception that some people have is that they have to spend a huge amount of money at this time of the year. Now some people become very irresponsible and they’ll buy things they can’t afford, and they’ll run up credit card bills that really messed them up for the rest of the year. And sometimes people don’t give us much to the Lord as they should at this time of the year, because they can’t afford to after they bought all of this stuff. And sometimes covetousness can really get the best of us during the Christmas season. But I’m going to tell you something: More is not better, especially when it comes to our kids. It’s the simple things and the love that they’re really going to remember about the holidays when they grow up. It’s the time together. And, you know, the more stuff is just liable to make them more covetous, and that’s not going to help them at all. You know, a lot of Christians have struggled with this question about Christmas and so let’s just summarize this. It means to us that as a religious holiday set by God, Christmas is no such thing. The Lord has not given us the date of Christ’s birth. He has not given us the commandment to celebrate it nor has He specifically given us any authority to teach it as a Christian holiday. If we look through the eyes of the New Testament, Christmas does not exist. But is it wrong to celebrate it as a non-religious, secular observance without religious overtones? Friends, that’s a different matter altogether. Now I would add this: If you’re a person who believes that it’s wrong then you should not offend your conscience, Romans 14, because if you do that then you would be sinning. Friends, Jesus is the reason for salvation. He’s the reason for our hope of heaven. He’s the reason that tomorrow is worth living. But He’s not the reason for the season. But you know that doesn’t mean that Christians can’t enjoy it as a secular holiday and a time of fun and good cheer with their families.
FAQ About Christmas
Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?
The Lord has not given us the date of Christ’s birth. He has not given us the commandment to celebrate it nor has He specifically given us any authority to teach it as a Christian holiday. If we look through the eyes of the New Testament, Christmas does not exist.
Was Jesus born the same night that Mary arrived in Bethlehem?
The Bible doesn’t say. This is part of the story that’s traditionally told, but in reality they might have arrived weeks earlier. The Bible simply says, in Luke chapter 2:6 “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 cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
Is it really the case that a hotel keeper, an innkeeper, told Mary and Joseph that there was no room for them in the inn?
Well, the truth is the Bible doesn’t even mention an innkeeper. I know that almost all denominational Christmas plays include one, but it’s not in the Bible. In fact, it’s more likely that Mary and Joseph would have stayed with relatives, not in some sort of hotel or Bible times motel. Now, you might be thinking well doesn’t Luke chapter 2:7? The Bible doesn’t mention a stable. It simply says that they laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. Now, the word in the original language that’s translated as inn is the word kat-al-oo-mah. The word means a guest chamber. It can mean a a lodging place or an inn. Many translators have chosen to translate as inn and so we have a certain picture that is painted in our minds. But this same Greek word appears two other times in the Bible, once in Mark 14:14 and once in Luke 22 and verse 11. But in both those times, it is translated as a guest room and according to Bible archaeology experts, Jesus was probably born in the house of relatives but probably somewhere outside the normal living quarters outside the house in guest chambers.