Celebrating Christmas Like a Pagan

Santa putting gifts under the treeFacebook

Recently, I stirred up a bit of controversy on Facebook with this post:

I am a live and let live kind of guy (so I will support your freedom of religion), but the Bible does not have kind words for witchcraft, and for those practicing it, it’s at best a Monkey’s Paw (with eternal ramifications). https://www.christianpost.com/news/witches-outnumber-presbyterians-in-the-us-wicca-paganism-growing-astronomically-227857/

P.S. Paganism is no more correct, so no one misunderstands my not initially mentioning it.

I imagine to those sitting here there is nothing too shocking in that statement, especially given I am a Christian minister. Additionally, it’s 100% accurate. To show that, let’s look at Revelation 9:20-21:

The rest of humankind, who weren’t killed by these plagues, didn’t change their hearts and lives and turn from their handiwork. They didn’t stop worshipping demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that can’t see or hear or walk. 21 They didn’t turn away from their murders, their spells and drugs, their sexual immorality, or their stealing.

Although there are plenty other verses reflecting on God’s disdain for witchcraft and paganism, that one covers both, doesn’t it? Personally, I think it is summarized by the first of the Ten Commandments:

3 “You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3).

Witchcraft and paganism put other gods (little g’s) before the one true God (big G).

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

Jehovah’s Witnesses

During the exchange that followed, one good friend of mine basically said I was a hypocrite for dissing paganism, but celebrating Christmas.

Why?

Because, and she’s totally right, much of what we do at Christmas has pagan roots. Is she correct, and for us to be consistent in our Christian witness, do we need to avoid celebrating it?

In Christendom, the largest denomination I am aware of that would answer yes to that question is the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In answer to “Why don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate Christmas?” on their website, they write:

Jesus commanded that we commemorate his death, not his birth.—Luke 22:19, 20.

Jesus’ apostles and early disciples did not celebrate Christmas. The New Catholic Encyclopedia says that “the Nativity feast was instituted no earlier than 243 [C.E.],” more than a century after the last of the apostles died.

There is no proof that Jesus was born on December 25; his birth date is not recorded in the Bible.

We believe that Christmas is not approved by God because it is rooted in pagan customs and rites.—2 Corinthians 6:17.1

I’d suggest the first three are really “so whats?”…the first one especially being so. Only the fourth, condemning its ties to paganism, potentially holds water…although the verse they give doesn’t do a whole bunch for their argument. Another JW page has this as “The Bible’s answer” to “What does the bible say about Christmas?”:

The Bible does not give the date of Jesus’ birth, nor does it say that we should celebrate his birthday. As McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia states: “The observance of Christmas is not of divine appointment, nor is it of NT [New Testament] origin.”

Instead, an examination of the history of Christmas exposes its roots in pagan religious rites. The Bible shows that we offend God if we try to worship him in a way that he does not approve of.—Exodus 32:5-7.2

It then gives this “history of Christmas customs”:

  1. Celebrating Jesus’ birthday: “The early Christians did not celebrate [Jesus’] birth because they considered the celebration of anyone’s birth to be a pagan custom.”—

    The World Book Encyclopedia.

  2. December 25: There is no proof that Jesus was born on that date. Church leaders likely chose this date to coincide with pagan festivals held on or around the winter solstice.

  3. Gift-giving, feasting, partying: T

    he Encyclopedia Americana

    says: “Saturnalia, a Roman feast celebrated in mid-December, provided the model for many of the merry-making customs of Christmas. From this celebration, for example, were derived the elaborate feasting, the giving of gifts, and the burning of candles.”

    The Encyclopædia Britannica

    notes that “all work and business were suspended” during Saturnalia.

  4. Christmas lights: According to

    The Encyclopedia of Religion

    , Europeans decorated their homes “with lights and evergreens of all kinds” to celebrate the winter solstice and to combat evil spirits.

  5. Mistletoe, holly: “The Druids ascribed magical properties to the mistletoe in particular. The evergreen holly was worshiped as a promise of the sun’s return.”—

    The Encyclopedia Americana

    .

  6. Christmas tree: “Tree worship, common among the pagan Europeans, survived after their conversion to Christianity.” One of the ways in which tree worship survived is in the custom of “placing a Yule tree at an entrance or inside the house in the midwinter holidays.”​—

    Encyclopædia Britannica

    .

    3

Since I already stipulated that many Christmas traditions have roots in paganism, we aren’t that much further along than we were before…but I believe that you should give “the other side” proper respect by properly characterizing their view. What better way to do that than let them state it themselves?

Logic

Before we go where we always should…the Bible…let’s discuss a little bit of logic. Guilt by association isn’t always completely incorrect…but if we go with the idea that anything with a pagan…or otherwise negative…connection is off limits to Christians…then our lives will be quite complicated. For instance, imagine what I would have to do at work based on what an Oxford Dictionaries blog tells us in answer to, “How did the months get their names?”:

“January is named after the Roman god Janus…”

“February is ultimately based on Latin februarius, from februa. In case that’s not helped things become clearer, februa was the name of a purification feast held on the 15th of this month.”

“Which god gets a planet and a month [March] named after him? You’ve guessed it: Mars.”

“The month [May] is connected with the goddess Maia.”

“June is named after the ancient Roman goddess Juno…”4

Even if the other seven months are okay (and you could readily argue the two named after emperors, who demanded worship, are also problematic)…

Even if the other seven months are okay, could you imagine what it would be like if to be a “good Christian” if I had to avoid every saying or writing January, February, March, May, or June?

Although, I would if I thought the Scripture required it.

However, logically there has to be a reasonable line. Just finding some connection…tenuous or direct…cannot be enough to definitively argue against something. History’s tentacles are long, and this “guilt by association” might be able to make it so even breathing is sinful.

Principles

Well, it’s been too long before opening its pages, but let’s turn to the Bible. As I considered this topic, I was reminded that I answered a pretty similar question in a previous sermon about whether we should celebrate Halloween. So, from here on this is a significantly modified version of that discussion…a discussion that thought it was important we lay down some principles to begin with.

The first one we’ll get (in part) from a very familiar set of verses, 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Before we mold a principle out of that, let’s look at two other quick references. First Romans 15:4:

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

And 1 Corinthians 10:5-6:

5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.

Principle #1 for today’s discussion is:

We look to the Bible, and the Bible only, for “our instruction.”

This is very important. If you’ve ever heard arguments for or against Christmas, how scripturally-based have they been? Even when they have given plenty of biblical references, how tenuous have the connections been? Did they clearly say, “Yes, it’s okay” or “No, avoid it like the plague?”

No matter how great a preacher can make an argument sound, it isn’t sound if it isn’t the clear voice of Scripture.

Our second principle comes from Ephesians 5:11 and 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22:

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

“Take no part in…works of darkness.”

20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

“Abstain from every form of evil.”

Principle #2 is:

If it is wrong, don’t do it.

A simple principle that even we Christians seem to ignore frequently…aided often by the power of rationalization.

For our third principle we’ll look to Colossians 2:16-19:

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

In this and other places Paul (or I should say God through Paul?) made it clear we should not judge people who don’t get caught up in the pious religious rules…for instance, whether it is okay to eat meat sacrificed from idols. Of course, it works both ways…if someone doesn’t want to do something we should not judge them for avoiding it.

To quote Paul again:

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:1-5)

“Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”

Principle #3 is:

You must decide…not someone else for you…or you for someone else.

Well, I suppose, unless you are parents…in which case it is your duty to learn God’s will and bring your children up in it.

Our final principle could come from Scripture, but it jumped out at me while I researching Halloween in my Bible software. This was in a Discipleship Journal from back in 1995:

Local author Jean Fleming tells about a woman she invited to study the Bible with her. Jean’s friend had seemed interested in spiritual things, so Jean was surprised when she was hesitant.

“I don’t want to have to be against so many things,” her friend explained. From observing some Christians, she had the impression that one of the major Christian doctrines was that celebrating Halloween was sinful.

It is a tragic statement that believers in our city have become known to many unbelievers mostly for what we are against. We may win a few elections, but, thus far, we have not won the hearts of the people.

Ouch!

Is that how the Churches of Christ is known? It is definitely one of the ways the Jehovah’s Witnesses are known (along with not celebrating birthdays), but…

Is that how you and I are known? By all the things we won’t do, instead of all the freedom, through Christ, we can share with unbelievers?

Principle #4 is…

Even not doing something reflects back on God. Choose wisely.

Four principles

So our four principles are:

  • We look to the Bible, and the Bible only, for “our instruction.”
  • If it is wrong, don’t do it.
  • You must decide…not someone else for you…or you for someone else.
  • Even not doing something reflects back on God. Choose wisely.

Rapid Fire

Now that we’ve laid a foundation I’d like to share some thoughts rapid-fire.

First, nowhere in the Bible does it say you cannot celebrate Christmas unless you are doing so in a sinful manner. In my opinion the burden of scriptural proof is on those who vehemently say that Christians should avoid Christmas completely—since they are making the proactive claim. Although they can provide some reasonable arguments against recognizing the day, they can’t prove giving gifts, drinking eggnog, decorating…and so on…are sinful.

However, if you are celebrating it in a truly pagan manner, then verses like these come into scope (and we discussed these four in 1 Corinthians while discussing the Lord’s Supper last week):

19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (1 Corinthians 10:19-22).

What you choose will either scoot you up to the table of the Lord or the table of demons. Again, choose wisely.

Second, beyond not keeping it in a pagan way…don’t celebrate in any other way that would go against God’s commandments. I’m going to assume I won’t have to give you Scriptures that prove, for instance, you:

  • Shouldn’t eat too much — that is gluttony
  • Shouldn’t drink too much at Christmas parties
  • Shouldn’t get to caught up in any “sensual pleasures” — that is debauchery
  • Shouldn’t forget the Reason for the Season, Jesus

If you think it’s okay to celebrate Christmas, do so acting like a Christian.

Wrapping up…

So…at this point have I proven to you whether you should or shouldn’t celebrate Christmas? I hope not…the time limits of a sermon…even with me running over as I have today…mean we’ve really only touched on some items. If that restriction didn’t exist, we (for instance) would spend a little more time looking at the concept of syncretism…where paganism is mixed with Christianity…and see what things like the incident with the golden calf tell us about God’s view of at least some aspects of Christmas.

One final suggestion before the punch line. I quoted from the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ site about why you shouldn’t celebrate Christmas. If you would like a good site to do more research about how even the pagan connections to Christmas were redeemed, go to Google and search for “should we celebrate christmas site: equip.org.” Unlike the JW’s, whose rejection of Jesus’ divinity alone means they are not a Christian denomination…

The Christian Research Institute exists to provide Christians worldwide with carefully researched information and well-reasoned answers that encourage them in their faith and equip them to intelligently represent it to people influenced by ideas and teachings that assault or undermine biblical Christianity and the essentials of the historic Christian faith.5

I’m not saying to take everything they say credulously…you should always compare it to the Bible…but CRI is pretty safe.

Back to the topic at hand…

What is the punch line? Whatever you do or don’t do, do or don’t do it like a Christian.

Repeating…

Whatever you do or don’t do, do or don’t do it like a Christian!

Footnotes

1Why Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses Celebrate Christmas? | FAQ. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2018, from https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/why-not-celebrate-christmas/

2What Does the Bible Say About Christmas? (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2018, from https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/bible-about-christmas/

3Ibid.

4How did the months get their names? (2016, January 11). Retrieved November 24, 2018, from https://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2016/01/11/months-names/

5About CRI. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2018, from https://www.equip.org/about/


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