The much debated issue of celebrating Christmas or not goes back
much farther than you might realize . . .
back to the 2nd Century.
As the ‘good news’ about Jesus spread beyond Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria
to ‘the uttermost parts of the earth’, Christianity butted heads with pagan cultures.
In a parable, Jesus said the Word is like seed;
it needs receptive soil and careful on-going nurturing.
Everywhere they went, 1st Century Christians sowed the Seed,
and everywhere new converts readily embraced the Kingdom of God
—freedom, life, love and hope in Christ.
Without centuries of grooming in Torah,
the ‘new-breed’ Christians were very different ‘soil’.
Deeply embedded pagan culture cluttered the new ‘ground’.
With great patience and faith the Apostles cultivated Kingdom seed
while at the same time digging out entangling roots.
They understood that as regeneration is a sovereign work of God’s grace
in the heart of a believer,
so too is transformation a work of the Holy Spirit
from within—breaking down cultural ‘strongholds’
and renewing the mind with the Word.
One such cultural stronghold was the Roman celebration of
Dies Natalis Solis Invicti . . .
‘the birthday of the unconquered sun’ . . .
December 25th .
Some early Christians dissociated themselves completely from these pagan festivities.
They staunchly admonished new believers,
“Come out from among them and be ye separate . . .”
Others boldly challenged the pagan celebration.
They cited the prophet Malachi,
“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.”
‘Jesus is the ‘sun of righteousness‘, the unconquerable light,’ they announced.
‘He delivers us out of darkness into His Kingdom of Light.
Come, celebrate Jesus!‘
Many left their pagan festivities to worship the true Sun of Righteousness.
The Kingdom of Darkness does not take passively any threat
to the death-grip on its hapless captives.
Two centuries of persecution ensued,
culminating in The Great Persecution by Emperor Diocletian
who destroyed all churches and sacred texts,
confiscated all liturgical vessels,
banned all meetings for worship and executed Christians who refused
to participate in pagan sacrifices and customs.
The persecution lasted until Constantine became emperor.
Judgment is easily cast on Emperor Constantine who ‘legalized’ Christianity
and supposedly polluted the Church with paganism.
Was he simply solidifying his power and control over the Roman empire?
Or was he granting reprieve from ‘the Great Persecution’ of Diocletian?
Was the celebration of Christmas on December 25th a compromising move of newly-appointed ‘bishops’
under pressure from political leaders and commoners reluctant to give up their saturnalian revelry?
Or was this a concerted effort of Christians to invade pagan customs,
redefine the meaning attached,
thus creating a platform on which the gospel could be preached
in vernacular understood by the ‘unchurched’?
John Chrysostom, appointed Archbishop of Constantinople at the time, makes it clear in a sermon,
“But they call it the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered’.
Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord …?
Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun,
He is the Sun of Justice.”
Out of early church history emerge two very opposite responses to Christmas which persist even today.
On the one hand are those who shunned Christmas because of its pagan roots.
On the other hand are those who seized the opportunity to infiltrate pagan culture with Christian focus.
Which is right?
Neither, in my opinion, is more right than the other
—nor is either more ‘wrong’ than the other!
As the Apostle Paul advises Roman believers regarding similar issues:
‘One man’s faith permits him to participate, while another man’s faith limits him from participating.
Let him who participates not look down on or despise him who abstains,
and let not him who abstains criticize and pass judgment on him who participates;
for God has accepted and welcomed each.
Let everyone be fully convinced in his own mind.
For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God
and each of us shall give account of himself to God.
Let us rather endeavor never to put a stumbling block or obstacle
or hindrance in the way of a brother.’
Romans 14:2-14 (Paraphrased from AMP)
Good advice, when it comes to celebrating Christmas or not!
Image courtesy of Jeff Weese via Wikimedia Commons