Culture Topics

Twas the Fight Before Christmas

December 23, 2014

Christmas – in some homes and churches – is a minefield. At times you feel like you’re walking on eggshells. Any mention of Christmas and you’ll be hit with a lecture including many of the following words: pagan, Mithra, lukewarm, compromise, Illuminati, etc.

I know someone who I literally only hear from once a year around Christmas time.  Either through a phone call or when I see them in person (again, usually around this time), I can guarantee that one of the points of our conversation will inevitably be the “paganism of Christmas.”

Why?  How can people become so emotional over something that from the outside seems so innocent?

Let’s Look at the Facts

Biblically speaking, December 25 is not actually Jesus’ birthday.  The Gospels of Matthew and Luke give us very little detail regarding Jesus’ time of birth. Without going into the technical details of it, the closest we can get to Jesus birth is the window between 7 B.C. and 1 A.D.

So, Why December 25th?

Dionysius Exiguus (c. 470 – c. 544) was a 6th-century monk and is best known as the “inventor” of the Gregorian calendar we use today.  When Dionysius computed the date of Christ’s birth in the Middle Ages, he named the year of the Nativity 1 A.D (Anno Domini). and stated that Jesus’ birthdate was December 25th  of that year.  The year immediately before this was the year 1 B.C. (Before Christ).

However, the Encyclopedia Britannica says that church leaders probably chose it “to coincide with the pagan Roman festival marking the ‘birthday of the unconquered sun’” at the time of the winter solstice.  According to The Encyclopedia Americana, many scholars believe that this was done “in order to make Christianity more meaningful to pagan converts.”

In the minds of some, this history is enough to render Christmas “evil by association.”

Does the “Evil by Association” Argument Work?

Brace yourself christmas is a pagan holiday statuses are coming

Basically…

Really, this issue depends on where you throw out a practice because of its association with paganism. In my experience, people who use this argument are very selective of what they consider pagan and what they don’t.  Many things people use every day have roots in paganism but we use them so often, little attention is paid to them.

Wedding rings, wedding ceremonies, funerals, statues, money, the names of the weekdays, birthdays (including the cakes), and ties just to name a few.  When choosing to throw out something by a standard, you can’t have your cake and eat it too… especially because birthday cake is also pagan.

Even Christianity has adopted many pagan customs.  Why do people dress up for church?  Why does the pastor preach a sermon each week?  Why do we have pews, choirs, steeples, and seminaries?  Most of what Christians do in present-day churches is not rooted in the New Testament, but in pagan cultures and rituals that developed long after the death of the apostles (for more on this, check out “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola and George Barna).

Faced with this reality, some people will choose to “examine everything and hold on to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21) in this season.  Others will decide to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Biblically speaking, both are acceptable.  You see, the debate over special days is as old as the New Testament itself.  Paul faced similar issues when he wrote to the believers in Rome, in Romans 14:5-6.

“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike.  Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God…” 

So really, the decision of whether to celebrate this day or not is up you. Paul took the relativist approach before post-modernity made it cool. Hipster.

What About Ellen White?

Ellen White had a lot of things to say about Christmas.  The Ellen White Estate graciously has a page dedicated to her thoughts on Christmas which can be found by clicking here.

When I wrote about this a while ago, someone replied, “Well, that’s fine, but that was her opinion.  Aaron also allowed the Children of Israel to dance around the pagan Golden Calf in Exodus 32.”

That is a fair comparison.  But the main difference lies in God’s response and His appointed messenger.  In Moses’ case, Scripture records God informing Moses of the ruckus going on in the camp and basically tells him, “Moses, you need to deal with this now, otherwise I’m going to step in.”  The end result was the children of Israel being sternly rebuked, and having grounded up, golden calf milkshakes.

However, in Christmas’ case, Ellen White had a ministry that lasted for decades and she never once treated it the same way Aaron or Moses acted toward the Chick-fil-A mascot.  Actually, quite the opposite: in reading her above statements, you almost get the feeling that she is affirming Christmas when it is treated correctly.  If this were such an abomination unto the Lord, it should stand to reason that God would have given her a message like he gave to his servant Moses.

Thus, you are left with only two logical conclusions to this issue.  Either, one, she is a true prophet and Christmas is not to be treated as the debased pagan festival you claim it is, or two, she was a false prophet because she didn’t speak openly against this pagan festival.

The bigger problem with simply dismissing this idea that it was her “opinion” is this: you are placing yourself as the inspiration referee.  Is it a “straight testimony” when it agrees with you, and an “opinion” when it doesn’t?

For more on this point, check out this post.

This season can be used for so much good if we were to look at Jesus as the reason for the season.  So rather than fight about whether to put up Christmas lights, Santa, and trees or sing carols, focus on the fact that Emmanuel, God with us, was born and did come! 

I wish you all a Happy Holiday.

Below are some links to other well written and well researched articles that cover this topic. While none of these will convince someone who has already made up their mind they can serve as a blessing to those who are wrestling with this issue and seeking wisdom with regard to what choice they should make this Christmas. In the end, regardless of your position, we can all be thankful that Jesus came, died, and rose again.

Should Adventists Celebrate Christmas?
Christmas: Pagan or Christian?
Ellen G. White Statements Related to the Observance of Christmas

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