The Celebration of Christmas

From BelieveTheSign
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Is it possible for Christians to honestly celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th?

Of course it is!

Christmas was never about paganism to my parents, to me or my kids. But many followers of William Branham love to throw a wet blanket on Christmas.

When we raise our children with the emphasis on Christ and family, then traditions set forth by that family are founded on love and wrapped up in fellowship. Many families have adopted traditions created by other families of yesteryear and some families create their own traditions. Grace is knowing we can celebrate family traditions founded on love while not worrying about how others in the past may have had a different focus.

Forgiveness lavished with grace erases the memories of what previous people did on the same days and gives us mercy as we seek to walk forward in Christ with our families.

Many message churches teach that Christmas is a pagan tradition that should be squelched, ignored and certainly not celebrated. But the Bible teaches that no other Christian is allowed to judge another with respect to the celebration of feasts or holy days.

Legalism kills the spiritual benefit of Christmas and destroys the wonderful Christ-honoring family times that occur as we celebrate the incarnation together, partake in special family meals, and commune with one another during the holiday time.

The origins of Christmas

We know what the origins of December 25th are. But we also know what the origins of the days of the week are too (and we still use a calendar).

We don’t worship pagan gods, sit around an Asherah pole (more on that later), or eat raw meat from strangled animals.

There’s no need to attempt to sway people into thinking they are doing something as horrid as that. Yet, even if they were, they would be considered the modern day heathens who Christ died to save. Because of the knowledge of Christ, we can celebrate our traditions with our families and not worry about the condemnation that legalism spreads.

There is no condemnation to those in Christ.

The argument from the Old Testament fails because I am a Christian; therefore, I am not under the law. Galatians 3:19 states, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made…” The law was in effect until Christ fulfilled it. Now, we are not under the law, but under grace (Romans 6:14).

Second, even if things like Santa, Rudolph, trees, etc., are wrong (which I’m not claiming they are good or bad, but if they detract from Christ then I’m not in favor of them), it doesn’t follow that every single Christian celebrates Christmas in that way.

We never taught our kids to believe in Santa or any of that other stuff.

So am I not allowed to tell God “Thank You” on December 25th?

The Bible could really not be any clearer on this subject. Christians have the freedom to set aside a day (or multiple days) to celebrate the birth of Christ or for any other reason they may want to praise God.

The Bible and Christmas

Bible verses that support Christmas

There are a number of Bible verses that support scripture. As mentioned above, the whole issue of law versus grace should prevent legalism about Christmas.

Colossians 2:16

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths...[1]

I don't think that needs any clarification (although it will not dissuade those that really do want to rain on your parade).

Romans 14

Paul discusses Christians who criticize someone for observing religious celebrations:

Receive aone who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things...
Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.
One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks...
But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.[2]

In other words, if I want to celebrate the birth of Christ, I have the freedom to do that on any day I want, including December 25th.

You have the freedom not to celebrate Christ’s birth on that day, or any other day. Whichever one you do, let it be according to your own conscience and celebrate (or don’t celebrate) “to the Lord.” If you feel conviction that you should not do it, then God bless you, don’t do it, and serve the Lord, BUT DO NOT JUDGE a fellow believer for celebrating on that day. Remember that Paul asked, “Who are you to judge another’s servant?”

Zechariah 14:20

In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD...[3]

So does this mean that "Jingle Bells" is a scriptural song?

Bible verses used to kill Christmas

Jeremiah 10

Jeremiah 10:3-6 states:

For the customs of the people are vain:
For one cutteth a tree out of the forest,
The work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
They deck it with silver and with gold;
They fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not:
They must needs be borne, because they cannot go.
Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil,
Neither also is it in them to do good.
Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O LORD;
Thou art great, and thy name is great in might.
Who would not fear thee, O King of nations? for to thee doth it appertain...[4]

It is obvious that Jeremiah was not speaking of a Christmas tree as this was over 600 years before the birth of Christ. So what pagan rituals was Jeremiah referring to?

Asherah appears in the OT both as the name of a Canaanite goddess and of her wooden cult-symbol. She functioned as consort of the chief god, El, and mother of the gods. The KJV mistakenly translates the name of Asherah as "grove". Asherim were the wooden poles that were used in the worship of Asherah.

It is quite clear, however, from a number of OT references that the Asherim were manmade objects; verbs used in connection with them include “make” (ʿāśâ, 1 Kgs 14:15; 16:33; 2 Kgs 17:16; 21:3, 7; 2 Chr 33:3), “build” (bānâ, 1 Kgs 14:23), and “erect” (nāṣab, 2 Kgs 17:10), which are inappropriate for living trees.

Jeremiah 17:2 speaks of “their Asherim beside every luxuriant tree,” which would be odd if the Asherim were themselves actual trees. This makes it impossible to suppose that the Asherim were living trees.

Deut 16:21 states that “You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the Lord your God, which you shall make.” However, the word ʿēṣ can mean “wood” as well as “tree” so it seems that this also refers to something other than a living tree. Since all the other references to the Asherah in the OT (including other references in Deutoronomy) indicate that it is a manmade object, it is more natural to suppose that this is the meaning of ʿēṣ here.

The Asherah cult object does not appear to have been an image of her, since the Asherim are frequently mentioned alongside pĕsı̂lı̂m “graven images” (an expression including images of wood) as distinct objects (see Deut 7:5; 12:3; 2 Chr 33:19; 34:3, 4, 7; Mic 5:12–13—Eng 5:13–14). The most likely view is that the Asherah was a wooden pole symbolizing the goddess Asherah. [5]

Jeremiah 2:26-27 states:

As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they, their kings, their princes, and their priests, and their prophets, Saying to a stock (ʿēṣ), Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth: for they have turned †their back unto me, and not their face: but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us.[6]

"Stock" here refers to a dead piece of wood, an Asherah pole.

Isaiah 44:14–19 also deals with this issue in a very similar way:

He cuts down cedars for himself,
And takes the cypress and the oak;
He 1secures it for himself among the trees of the forest.
He plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it.
Then it shall be for a man to burn,
For he will take some of it and warm himself;
Yes, he kindles it and bakes bread;
Indeed he makes a god and worships it;
He makes it a carved image, and falls down to it.
He burns half of it in the fire;
With this half he eats meat;
He roasts a roast, and is satisfied.
He even warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm,
I have seen the fire.”
And the rest of it he makes into a god,
His carved image.
He falls down before it and worships it,
Prays to it and says,
“Deliver me, for you are my god!”
They do not know nor understand;
For lHe has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see,
And their hearts, so that they cannot munderstand.
And no one nconsiders in his heart,
Nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say,
“I have burned half of it in the fire,
Yes, I have also baked bread on its coals;
I have roasted meat and eaten it;
And shall I make the rest of it an abomination?
Shall I fall down before a block of wood?”[7]

As a result of the above, it is clear that Jeremiah 10 is not referring to a Christmas tree.

William Branham and Christmas

How William Branham celebrated Christmas

From conversations with members of the Branham family, we understand that William Branham had a Christmas tree in his home every year, right up to his death. In fact, they were mildly embarassed with the last Christmas tree that he purchased in Tucson, as it was apparently a small artificial wind-up metallic tree that played a popular Christmas song as it turned on its base.

So based on his actions, it is clear that William Branham was in favour of celebrating Christmas within the family setting.

What William Branham said about Christmas

Unfortunately, like with so many things, William Branham managed to communicate confusion on this issue. While celebrating Christmas with his family and giving presents to the kids, he also sometimes railed against it over the pulpit.

And today, that memorial of His birthday, what do they do? They get some tree, cut it down, make a Christmas tree, for the kiddies. But they think... That's all right; I'm not kicking against that. But the thing of it is, they put more on the Christmas tree than they do for Christ.[8]
My, how I can't understand where a rabbit has anything to do with the resurrection (See? No, sir.), or how a Christmas tree has anything to do with the birth of Christ. It's pagan, friends. We've got off the path somewhere. That's right. But now a real born again man or woman realizes, because there's life within you, tells you that that's wrong. Is that right? [9]
And then I want to take this time to express to each and every one of you, how grateful I am to you for your Christmas cards and gifts, and things that was received at our house. I certainly thank you with all my heart. It certainly did us good this morning when... I got a little boy, small enough yet to kind of want a Christmas tree, and we had it in the room. And this morning, go under there, I found several gifts from my church here, and my friends from around different places, that had come in, laying under the tree.[10]
Christmas is no more a worship; it's a celebration: drinking, gambling, carousing, just pagan to the limit. And it's not... And I wanted to... Maybe after Christmas I'll speak again on Christmas (You see?), so that it won't deprive the little... But you can't tell that to little children like that. They see little fellows on Christmas night getting Christmas presents and things like that; they don't understand it. See? They just--they're too little. And we've got to remember them, that they are--that they have things in common. We've got to bring ourself down to remember them little fellows...[11]
And then I want to take this time to express to each and every one of you, how grateful I am to you for your Christmas cards and gifts, and things that was received at our house. I certainly thank you with all my heart. It certainly did us good this morning when... I got a little boy, small enough yet to kind of want a Christmas tree, and we had it in the room. And this morning, go under there, I found several gifts from my church here, and my friends from around different places, that had come in, laying under the tree. And I don't have words to express to you what I, how I appreciate every one of them. And may the God of heaven bless you richly is my prayer. And now...[12]
God bless each one of you. I want to say again for the nice Christmas presents that each one give me. The church give me a new suit, oh, how I appreciate it. And I got two new suits for Christmas. My brother, the little church down in Macon, Georgia, down there, Brother Palmer, sent me a new suit. And the Tabernacle give me a new suit, and there's so many nice things give in, and--and Christmas gifts in the line of money. Which, the division of income tax tells me that if it's a Christmas present and wrote "Christmas present" or a "Birthday present," anything, you can accept it; otherwise that I have to... It--it goes into the work, which is all right. And I sure thank each and every one of you, wife and I, and the children, and all of us express our gratitude to each, every one of you, so nice. We wish we could go back and give each one of you a present back, but you just can't do that, you know, you just... My, I--I couldn't do that. I wish I could, but I--I just couldn't.[13]
Why, they started buying Christmas present months ago, and what is it but a heathen trait. There's nothing about it godly. Oh, they try to say, "Give gifts, to the wise men." That's just a--a oasis for a devil's excuse. You want to give something, it's your life to Christ. Don't give to one another; give it to Him. That's what He died for. That's His purpose of coming. See?[14]
But I think the church has got a little present here for the little kiddies after while. I was just looking it over back there. Oh, you'll want to stay after Sunday school; just hold on (See?), 'cause I think they've got some presents back there for the little fellows, to give out this morning. And well, now, you little fellows remember, while we're doing this... I want to make this clear. It's not Santa Claus, 'cause that's a story that someday you'll learn that's nothing to it. But it's from Jesus Christ, the Truth of all Truth this is, the Son of God. And we're giving you this little present this morning because it's letting you know that one time God gave the greatest present could ever be give to the human race: His Son. And we have a poor way of expressing it. And there's nothing we can give to compare with that, but just as mortals, one to another, we do that.[15]
And the people has turned into buying whiskey, and--and gambling, and fashions. And a--a man that... a merchant that can sell his goods through Christmas time can live the rest of the year, almost. See? It's such a great holiday, commercial. And poor little kids on the street; their parents are not able to--to visit them with a--a present, like from Santa Claus, and they walk down the street, and their little dirty hands and their little red eyes. I--I just hate to see it come along. It ought to be a solemn day of worship to God, instead of a heartache and a headache and the things that's done. There's nothing to Christ about that. But we're right in the midst of all this now.[16]
And now, you say, "Well, the rest of them's all Santa Claus and going on like they do; why, we just might as well do it." No, sir! No, this is not a pagan celebration to us, this is a sacred hour. If there had been no Christmas, there would been no resurrection. If there been no Christmas: there'd been no love, there'd been no peace, there'd been no hereafter for the believer; if there'd been no Christmas.[17]

Was this another example of William Branham adopting the doctrine of the Jehovah's Witnesses?

There are several examples of William Branham adopting doctrinal positions that were similar to those of the Watchtower Society (the Jehovah's Witnesses).

“… those who celebrate Christmas do not honor God or Christ, but honor pagan celebrations and pagan gods.” This declaration in an Awake! magazine of December 8, 1988 (page 19) sums up the Watchtower Society’s teaching on the holiday — a teaching that the Society’s magazines reemphasize each December lest some of the flock forget and erroneously conclude ‘tis the season to be jolly.

Criticism of Christmas in those articles focuses first of all on the date. Religious and secular sources are quoted to establish the well-known fact that the actual date of the Savior’s birth is unknown. The articles then attack selection of December 25th as an arbitrary date to celebrate the event, because pagans were already holding winter festivals on that date. The implication is that the Church did not try to supplant the pagan festival with a Christian one, but rather that the Church merely attached a new name to the old holiday so that believers could join in. JW articles go on to trace the Christmas tree to pagan worship; they focus on greed and commercialism that surfaces during the Christmas shopping season; they point out that the holiday is celebrated in oriental lands where the general population makes no pretense of being believers in Christ.

From all of this they argue that Christmas is a pagan holiday inappropriate for Christians to share in. Interestingly, however, The Watchtower did not always express this viewpoint. The organization’s founders and early leaders celebrated Christmas and encouraged others to do the same:

“Christmas Day,” in celebration of our dear Redeemer’s birth, has for long centuries been celebrated on December 25th; and although it is now well known that this date is in error, and that it more properly corresponds with the date of the annunciation to Mary, nine months before our Lord was born, and that he was born about October 1st,—nevertheless, since the Lord has given no instructions whatever upon this subject, and since it is proper to do good deeds and think good thoughts upon any day, it cannot be improper, in harmony with general usage, for us to remember in a social way our dear Redeemer’s birth at this time.[18]


It matters not particularly that December 25 is not the anniversary of our Lord’s birth, according to the Scriptural account; that really he was born about September 25, nine months later. One day, as well as another, will serve us to commemorate our Savior’s birth in the flesh, as a gift of God’s love to a condemned and dying world.[19]

The early Watchtower leaders who felt this way were just as familiar as today’s leaders with the resemblance between pagan customs and certain Christmas traditions. They welcomed opportunities to share with others in honoring Christ, while today’s leaders seem more eager to keep followers separated from non-JW relatives and neighbors. (Some form of isolation from outsiders is a common thread found in many mind-control cults. With some groups this separation is accomplished by physically withdrawing into a commune, while in other cults members continue living in the outside world but withdraw from social contact with non-members.)

Participation in Christmas celebrations is not optional for Jehovah’s Witnesses. The ban is enforced by elders who make up judicial committees that sit in judgment of any who celebrate the holiday, even in some small way. This has been a firmly held position of the Watchtower Society since 1928.[20]

Christmas and Paganism

BAH! HUMBUG! These two words are instantly associated with Charles Dickens’s immortal fictional antihero, Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge was the prototype of the Grinch who stole Christmas, the paradigm of all men cynical.

We all recognize that Ebenezer Scrooge was a mean person—stingy, insensitive, selfish, and unkind. What we often miss in our understanding of his character is that he was preeminently profane. “Bah! Humbug!” was his Victorian use of profanity.

Not that any modern editor would feel the need to delete Scrooge’s expletives. His language is not the standard currency of cursing. But it was profane in that Scrooge demeaned what was holy. He trampled on the sanctity of Christmas. He despised the sacred. He was cynical toward the sublime.

Christmas is a holiday, indeed the world’s most joyous holiday. It is called a “holiday” because the day is holy. It is a day when businesses close, when families gather, when churches are filled, and when soldiers put down their guns for a 24-hour truce. It is a day that differs from every other day.

Every generation has its abundance of Scrooges. The church is full of them - a kind of legalist. We hear endless complaints of commercialism. We are constantly told to put Christ back into Christmas. We hear that the tradition of Santa Claus is a sacrilege. We listen to those acquainted with history murmur that Christmas isn’t biblical. The Church invented Christmas to compete with the ancient Roman festival honoring the bull-god Mithras, the nay-sayers complain. Christmas? A mere capitulation to paganism.

And so we rain on Jesus’ parade and assume an olympian detachment from the joyous holiday. All this carping is but a modern dose of Scroogeism, our own sanctimonious profanation of the holy.

Sure, Christmas is a time of commerce. The department stores are decorated to the hilt, the ad pages of the newspapers swell in size, and we tick off the number of shopping days left until Christmas. But why all the commerce? The high degree of commerce at Christmas is driven by one thing: the buying of gifts for others. To present our friends and families with gifts is not an ugly, ignoble vice. It incarnates the amorphous “spirit of Christmas.” The tradition rests ultimately on the supreme gift God has given the world. God so loved the world, the Bible says, that He gave His only begotten Son. The giving of gifts is a marvelous response to the receiving of such a gift. For one day a year at least, we taste the sweetness inherent in the truth that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

What about putting Christ back into Christmas? It is simply not necessary. Christ has never left Christmas. “Jingle Bells” will never replace “Silent Night.” Our holiday once known as Thanksgiving is rapidly becoming known simply as “Turkey Day.” But Christmas is still called Christmas. It is not called “Gift Day.” Christ is still in Christmas, and for one brief season the secular world broadcasts the message of Christ over every radio station and television channel in the land. Never does the church get as much free air time as during the Christmas season. Not only music but the visual arts are present in abundance, bearing testimony to the historic significance of the birth of Jesus. Christmas displays, creches, Christmas cards, yard displays all remind the world of the sacred Incarnation.

Doesn’t Santa Claus paganize or at least trivialize Christmas? He’s a myth, and his very mythology casts a shadow over the sober historical reality of Jesus. Not at all. Myths are not necessarily bad or harmful. Every society creates myths. They are a peculiar art form invented usually to convey a message that is deemed important by the people. When a myth is passed off as real history, that is fraud. But when it serves a different purpose it can be healthy and virtuous. Kris Kringle is a mythical hero, not a villain. He is pure fiction—but a fiction used to illustrate a glorious truth.

What about the historical origins of Christmas as a substitute for a pagan festival? I can only say, good for the early Christians who had the wisdom to flee from Mithras and direct their zeal to the celebration of the birth of Christ. Who associates Christmas today with Mithras? No one calls it “Mithrasmas.”

We celebrate Christmas because we cannot eradicate from our consciousness our profound awareness of the difference between the sacred and the profane. Man, in the generic sense, has an incurable propensity for marking sacred space and sacred time. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, the ground that was previously common suddenly became uncommon. It was now holy ground—sacred space. When Jacob awoke from his midnight vision of the presence of God, he anointed with oil the rock upon which he had rested his head. It was sacred space.

When God touches earth, the place is holy. When God appears in history, the time is holy. There was never a more holy place than the city of Bethlehem, where the Word became flesh. There was never a more holy time than Christmas morning when Emmanuel was born. Christmas is a holiday. It is the holiest of holy days. We must heed the warning of Jacob Marley: “Don’t be a Scrooge” at Christmas.[21]


External References


Footnotes

  1. The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Col 2:16.
  2. The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ro 14:1, 4–6, 10.
  3. The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Zec 14:20.
  4. The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Je 10:3–7.
  5. John Day, “Asherah (Deity),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 483.
  6. The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Je 2:26–27.
  7. The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Is 44:14–19.
  8. THE.DEITY.OF.JESUS.CHRIST_ JEFF.IN 49-1225
  9. THE.CRUELTY.OF.SIN.AND.THE.PENALTY.THAT.IT.COST.TO.RID.SIN.FROM.OUR.LIVES_ JEFF.IN V-25 N-4 FRIDAY_ 53-0403
  10. GOD'S.WRAPPED.GIFT_ JEFF.IN V-14 N-8 SUNDAY_ 60-1225
  11. CHRISTIANITY.VERSUS.IDOLATRY_ JEFF.IN V-8 N-2 SUNDAY_ 61-1217
  12. GOD'S.WRAPPED.GIFT JEFF.IN 60-1225
  13. YOU.MUST.BE.BORN.AGAIN_ JEFF.IN V-11 N-5 SUNDAY_ 61-1231M
  14. THE.FALLING.APART.OF.THE.WORLD_ JEFF.IN 62-1216
  15. THE.REPROACH.FOR.THE.CAUSE.OF.THE.WORD_ JEFF.IN V-2 N-16 SUNDAY_ 62-1223
  16. WHO.DO.YOU.SAY.THIS.IS_ PHOENIX.AZ V-6 N-9 SUNDAY_ 64-1227
  17. GOD'S.GIFTS.ALWAYS.FIND.THEIR.PLACES_ JEFF.IN V-6 N-13 SUNDAY_ 63-1222
  18. Zion’s Watch Tower, December 15, 1898, page 370
  19. Zion’s Watch Tower, December 15, 1908, page 379
  20. David A. Reed, Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: Subject by Subject, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997).
  21. R. C. Sproul, “Right Now Counts Forever: Marley’s Message to Scrooge,” ed. R. C. Sproul Jr., Tabletalk Magazine, December 1993: Marley’s Message to Scrooge (Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 1993), 5–6.


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