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Who Started Christmas?

 
 
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(By Pastor Mark Fontecchio)

Maybe you have heard about the woman who was out doing her last-minute Christmas shopping with her two kids. She was at a crowded shopping mall and was tired of fighting the crowds. She was tired of standing in lines, and tired of fighting her way down long aisles. Looking for a gift that had been sold out days before, she was feeling what so many feel during this time of the year: overwhelming pressure to find that perfect gift for every single person on our shopping list. She finally made it to the elevator with her two kids. Her arms were full of packages and when the elevator door opened it was full of people. Thankfully, those already on board the elevator made room for her to get on. She squeezed her way onto the elevator, dragging her two kids in with her and all the bags full of stuff that they had purchased. When the doors closed she couldn’t take it anymore. So, she blurted out loud, in a moment of frustration, “Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up, and shot!” A few other people nodded their heads or grunted in agreement. But then from the back of the elevator a calm voice said, “Don’t worry, we already crucified Him.”

Is this statement from the back of the elevator correct? Did Jesus Christ really start Christmas? Where did it come from? And if there are truly problems with Christmas, does this mean as Christians we can still take part? Or, does this mean we avoid it all together?

A Few Words of Caution

Before we begin, allow me to give you a warning. First, let us make sure our focus is right. Christmas, in the grand scope of things that matter, is pretty low on the list of importance to our faith. No matter what position you take, Christmas should not cause separation between brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe it is an issue that needs to be looked at, but let us remember our priority should always be on the Gospel of Christ. Paul could testify to the Elders of the church of Ephesus in Acts 20 that he was innocent of the blood of all men because Paul’s first passion in life was the gospel of grace. Our focus should also be on sanctification (walking by faith). We live under grace, not under the Law. Therefore, we must be careful as we approach these issues to not create an environment of legalism. We will take this up more after we look at how the Church got here.

How We Got Here

Some in our culture think Christmas is about Santa Claus. Others think it is about pagan practices from thousands of years ago. Many people make it all about the gifts. The Church of Rome believes it is all about Christ’s Mass, and some in evangelical circles think it is all about Jesus Christ.

Christmas actually came about in the early 4th century. The early Christian Church never celebrated what we call Christmas because the truth of the matter is we don’t know the exact date of Christ’s birth. Some claim He was born in the spring, others claim He was born in the fall around October. Others believe that Christ was born in December or January, but we really don’t know. The reason we don’t know is because the Spirit of God didn’t reveal it to us in the Word of God. This right away teaches us that we must not make our focus on only one day. We must not make the entire focus of our faith in Christ on the 25th of December.

The center of the debate is on Luke 2:8. The Word of God records, “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” I have read plenty of good articles on both sides of the issue of whether or not the shepherds would have been living out in the fields in December. I’ll let you decide. But the bottom line is we do not know what specific day of the year that our Savior was born.

We know from church history that during the 1st and 2nd second centuries the early Christians did not celebrate Christmas. In fact, in 245 A.D. the first recorded time that a group of scholars attempted to pinpoint the exact date of Christ’s birth, it was condemned by the Christians because they considered it wrong to celebrate the birthday of Christ, “as though He were a King Pharaoh.” Here is what we know from church history. In the 4th century the Catholic Church set the day of December 25th to be a day to celebrate Christ’s birth. This date goes back hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Back in the days of Babylon and in the days of Assyria, most of the people worshipped the pagan gods. Most of the people were sun worshippers. You need to keep in mind that they used different calendars than ours today. Every year they saw the sun move further and further south. The days grew shorter and they really believed that the sun would never return. In order to encourage the sun to return, to supposedly strengthen the sun god, they worshipped the sun gods with elaborate rituals. They had bonfires, holly, ivy, and mistletoe. When it was clear that it wasn’t going any further south, they concluded that they had been successful. They concluded that their sun gods had been strengthened through their worship, and therefore the sun was now going to return. They would break out into a time of rejoicing with feasts, drinking, and celebrations. As they were able to determine that the days were growing longer and that the sun was coming back a New Year was proclaimed. This event was known as Saturnalia.

Eventually, this practice spread. It was adopted by the Roman Empire years before the Church of Rome claimed it for its own. In somewhere around 160 - 180 A.D. the Roman Empire adopted December 25th as, “The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.” During this time each year work stopped, all of the schools closed, the people of Rome celebrated by having big dinners, visiting friends, they put boughs and trees in their homes, and they would light candles and lamps because the evil spirits were supposedly afraid of light. Since the sun was down they needed to protect themselves. Candles and green wreaths were given as presents. Public places were decorated with flowers and shrubs. Giving and receiving gifts was as common then as it is now.

In the 4th century the Catholic Church decided to Christianize these days. It was an effort to bring the pagan people into the Church. The Catholic Church took these pagan celebrations with these same exact dates, same exact traditions, and made these days into what they call “Holy Days.”

The term Christmas comes from a Latin phrase that means Christ’s Mass. It is important to keep in mind that the Catholic Church believes that the literal body and blood of Jesus is present in the Mass. They believe that the Mass is a time where Christ is continually sacrificed repeatedly. The Church of Rome took a pagan day with pagan traditions and decided it would be a day when people would partake in the Mass.

During the Medieval Ages many of the Catholic churches were actually built as solar observatories. What many people don’t understand about the Catholic Church is that it is more than just a blending of God’s Word and man’s tradition. It is a blending of these things with the worship of pagan gods.

Different cultures had different names for the false gods that were celebrated during the time known today as Christmas. Most of them had a virgin goddess with a small child in her arms. The Germans called her the virgin, “Hertha.” Scandinavians called her, “Disa.” Egyptians called her, “Isis.” They all had the same statues of a virgin with a small infant. The Catholic Church took many of these same statues and renamed them the Virgin Mary. This is part of the reason that the Catholic Church got so involved with praying to Mary. The Church of Rome promoted Mary to the title, “Queen of Heaven.” This was the title of some of these ancient false gods, and played a part in the role of the Catholic Church instituting Christ’s Mass on December 25th of each year.

As I mentioned, the Catholic Church built observatories in many of their cathedrals and churches throughout Europe. The reason they did this was because they still used the solar dating from the pagan religions to set their dates for Easter and Christ’s Mass. If you go to Europe, you can still see some of the observatories that they used to literally observe the sun to set the date for these so called “Holy Days.”

Nativity scenes came from the pagan gods and their statues. Christmas trees were brought into homes in ancient days because they stayed green when other trees lost their leaves. They represented immortality, fertility, and they were brought into homes and set up as idols. They would decorate their trees in honor of the different gods that supposedly were brought back to life on December 25th. Many of these gods that were said to come back to life on December the 25th were thought to be brought back to life by a serpent. Christmas wreaths came from evergreens (which once again represented eternal life). They were round because they symbolized the sun.

The use of Mistletoe is traced back to the ancient Druids. Mistletoe represented the false messiah and had two basic functions. It symbolized reconciliation, so kissing under the mistletoe was symbolic of reconciliation. It also signified a place for men to gather. This is where homosexual men would celebrate and kiss under the mistletoe.

The word yule is a Chaldean word. Long before Christ came, December 25th was known as Yule Day. This stood for infant’s day or child’s day. It was the worship of Tammuz (a false messiah). This is where we get the concept of Christmas Eve because it comes from what was called mother night. This was for Semiramis because the next day (Yule Day) was the birthday of her son Tammuz (the sun god spoken of in Ezekiel 8 and Jeremiah 44 where the Lord had warned the nation of Israel not to worship these false gods).

The Yule log was a sacred log that people used during these celebrations at the winter solstice. The fire promised good luck and long life. Each family would have to go out into the forest on the evening before to select a log to be used as their Yule log. It would be placed in the fireplace which represented the dead Nimrod. Nimrod was the false God that was the husband of Semiramis. The log represented the dead Nimrod. The tree that they had the next morning (which is one of the traditions where we get the idea of Christmas trees from) represented Nimrod reincarnated again in his new son (which was Tammuz). The entire concept of the Yule log comes to us from Scandinavia where the pagan fertility god was named “Jule.”

Jule was honored in a 12-day celebration in December, which is where we get the 12 days of Christmas from. Originally, it was the 12 days of sacrifices offered to the Yule log. This is also where we get the entire idea of Yuletide greetings.

The term noel referred to any child that was born within a period of this winter solstice. Candles were lit to scare away the spirits that were afraid of the light. The Yule candle would burn on the table with greenery around it on Christmas Eve. The Christmas goose and Christmas cakes were used in the worship of the Babylonian messiah.

In many ancient cultures the goose was considered sacred. In Egypt the goose was a symbol for a child ready to die. In other words, it was a symbol of a pagan messiah ready to die and give his life for the world. The Christmas ham comes to us from the Roman celebrations as well. Each man would sacrifice a hog for his family because it was a superstition that a boar (a male hog) had supposedly killed the sun god. This is where we get the Christmas ham and the New Year’s ham.

The tradition of Christmas cards is a more recent tradition. The first British Christmas card can be traced back to 1843 A.D. In the United States mass production of cards didn’t start until 1875 A.D. The people that made the Christmas cards saw it as a side business to that of making of playing cards. When it picked up and companies saw dollar signs, the tradition of sending cards caught on.

For a period of time in the early 1600’s the Puritans were in control of the English Parliament. The Puritans got a little too focused on the externals, and so they forbid people from observing Christmas. They made it so no observation of any kind was permitted on December 25th. It was to be a normal business day (a normal market day). They referred to Christmas as:

Profane Man’s Ranting Day

Superstitious Man’s Idol Day

The Papist’s Massing Day

The Old Heathen’s Fasting Day

The Multitude’s Idle Day

Satan - that Adversary’s - Working Day

In England Christmas celebrations would be broken up by troops. Armed soldiers would tear down decorations and arrest anyone holding a service. Eventually, riots broke out because of the banning of Christmas and in 1660 A.D. King Charles II restored Christmas because he was Roman Catholic.

In the United States the celebration of Christmas was mostly unheard of until the early 1800’s when some members of the New York Historical Society brought this day back to life. Before then, in Massachusetts it was illegal to take December 25th off of work. Christmas was forbidden in 1659 A.D. in Massachusetts and that law remained on the books for 22 years. In the early 1800’s, in certain areas of this country, Christmas could actually be a very dangerous time because in those days it was the custom for bands of young men to go door to door demanding food and drink. In exchange they would provide a song for entertainment for the people living in the home. If nothing was given these gangs would often break in and ransack the home, stealing whatever they found that they might want. Christmas was an excuse for the gangs to run wild. Christmas was a time of rioting and looting. This is actually the reason that in 1828 A.D. New York City established its first professional police force. The city government felt it necessary to respond to the riots at Christmas. In Boston, public schools stayed open on December 25th all the way up until 1870 A.D. The first state to declare Christmas a holiday was Alabama in 1836 A.D., and there weren’t any more states that did this until the Civil War. Then in 1885 A.D. federal workers were given the day off. The 1800’s was really a time of transition in this country. By the late 1800’s the celebration of Christmas was slowly spreading into most churches, and now we sit here today with Bibles in hand wondering what we should do. Wondering what we should believe.

Now What Do We Do?

If your focus is on what Christmas meant to people two thousand years ago (or if you focus on the externals), you are going to have a problem with Christmas. But let us consider some principles from the Word of God before we make any conclusions.

In the book of Esther, the Jews were in captivity in Persia and a man by the name of Haman had tricked the King of Persia into killing every Jew. As the book of Esther unfolds you see that God orchestrated events, and the Jews were allowed to not only defend themselves, but they ended up destroying their enemies as well. At the end of the book the Jews instituted an annual celebration to celebrate God’s gift of allowing them to live. This is what is known as Purim, which is still celebrated by the Jews each year in early spring. Even though this wasn’t a feast laid out in the Mosaic Law for the Jews to follow, in the gospels we see that Christ did not rebuke the Jews for this feast. There is also some strong evidence in John 5 that Jesus celebrated the feast known as Purim. During this time they would feast and give one another gifts in celebration of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from death. This shows us a precedent in Scripture for the practice of giving of gifts and a time of celebration in the Word of God for the gift of life that God has given us as Christians.

I’d like you also to consider Acts 17. There we see that when Paul was in Athens he came across an alter that had the inscription, “to the unknown god.” Paul stepped forward and told the people that he would tell them about the unknown God, the God of our Bible. The argument could be made that much of our society has some vague idea that Christmas has something to do with Jesus. To the people of our country He is the unknown God because they don’t know Him. Since most of our society takes some time off, it does seem like there are many opportunities during the month of December to use this time to tell people about Christ.

Personally, I have to admit over the years I have wrestled with this entire issue of Christmas. I grew up in a home that was not Catholic, I didn’t know about the Pope, I didn’t know about the Mass, and we celebrated Christmas as a time to reflect on Jesus coming to our world. I wasn’t saved back then, but I can also tell you that I sure was not worshipping Nimrod and Tammuz because I didn’t even know they existed. So how do we handle Christmas?

General Principles

Principle number one is to recognize that the biblical account is much different from the tradition that comes from men. A great example of this would be the wise men seen in a lot of nativity scenes. The biblical record teaches that the wise men (the magi) did not show up until months or maybe even a year or two after Christ’s birth. They should not be seen as a part of the manger scene. Another example would be that the Bible does not teach there were only three wise men. This is another tradition added by men. There are many of these traditions that have nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Stick to the biblical record. Recognize that the Bible does condemn the use of graven images to worship God (Exod. 20:4-6). This should be remembered concerning nativity scenes.

Principle number two is to focus on the internal rather than the external. James 1 teaches us that sin comes from within. Remember what Christ said in Mark 7:20-23, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” God is more concerned about the status of your heart than whether or not you have a Christmas tree.

The church in Corinth was struggling with pride. The situation that they faced was that in the Greek culture families participated in religious sacrifices to the pagan gods of their day. So, what was happening in the church was that the meat that was left over from the sacrifices was being sold in the market place. Most times this meat was cheaper. You could save a buck by getting meat from a pagan temple. Some of the Christians would get that meat, and others were offended by it. Some of the Christians thought that you shouldn’t buy the meat that had been offered to false gods. That’s why with the first part of verse 1 in Chapter 8 of 1 Corinthians Paul brings up the subject by saying, “Now concerning things offered to idols.” Paul continued in verse 4, “Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one.”

Notice carefully what is taking place in our passage. Paul is not talking about Christians worshipping these idols. That would have been a different matter. Clearly, Paul would have commanded them not to do that. The issue here was about eating meat offered to idols. Keep in mind that some of the Christians in that church had come to Christ out of these false religions. So, the issue at hand was what were you to do if you went to someone’s house and they served this meat that was offered to idols? The idea of what Paul was expressing in verse 4 is that there are no other gods except the God of the Bible. Paul wasn’t denying that there are false gods that are worshipped by people. Later on, Paul actually talks about demons pretending to be gods, but his point in verse 4 is that these are not real gods. There is only One God. That leads us to safely conclude that these other gods, like Tammuz and all the false gods that were associated with the winter solstice, were counterfeits from hell. There is no real power in a Christmas tree. There is no real power in a wreath. No one is suggesting that we worship false gods. But if a tree is out in the forest and then it is cut down, put into a home and decorated, does that somehow make it demonic? Hardly. The tree itself is just an object. We need to be careful that we don’t become mystics, giving power to inanimate objects. Because if we do that at Christmas, then we should at least be consistent and throw out our wedding rings (because they also come from a pagan background). Most of the traditions of modern weddings are pagan. So are the days on our calendars. Thursday meant the day of Thor. Tuesday stood for the God of War. Sunday and Monday were related to the worship of the sun and the moon. Does this mean we don’t use calendars?

Many of the things in our culture come to us from a pagan origin, but they have lost that meaning long ago. Much of what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 8 is that the object itself is neutral. Don’t get caught up in the trap of being mystical about inanimate objects.

Take a look at verses 5-6 in that same passage, “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods   and many lords), yet for us there is one God, and Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” Paul’s point here is simple. Even if there are these false gods, we don’t belong to them. We belong to Christ. Notice what he says in verse 6, “Through whom are all things.” Paul was telling the church that there was no real power in the meat offered to these false gods because God created all the animals that were killed, not just some of them. And by extension, I think one could clearly argue the same exact thing about putting evergreen trees in your home. If you want to put a tree in your house in December to gather around and talk about Christ, fine. Our God owns all the trees. If you want to gather around a tree in June, fine. God still owns all the trees. If you want to gather around a fireplace (even though there are supposed fire gods) go ahead, as long as your worship is of Christ reflecting the biblical account and not these false gods.

Notice verse 8 in 1 Corinthians, “But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.” It’s not about the food offered to idols. It’s not about the dinners we have as families on the 25th of December. It’s not about the trees. None of that is what really matters. Listen, God is more concerned about the status of your heart than whether or not you have a Christmas tree. Do not miss the message that God is more concerned about the internal rather than the external. You could have one man sitting at home without a Christmas tree and feeling self-righteous because of it, but another man does have a Christmas tree (not worshipping false gods from thousands of years ago) but his heart is right with the Lord using Christmas as a time to reach others for Christ and to teach his family about the biblical account of the Lord Jesus. This man is walking by faith and not by sight. Focus on the internal rather than the external. Focus on Christ; focus on the Word of God. Focus on the glorious truth that Jesus Christ stepped into history to redeem us.

Principle number three is to watch out for the misapplication of Scripture. In Galatians 4:10, Paul warned about not observing the days, months, and seasons. Many like to make this text about Christmas, but it is not. It was Paul warning the Jewish believers to not again be put under the bondage of the Mosaic Law. Some people use Colossians 2:16-17 to say that Christians should not celebrate Christmas. Others use passages from Jeremiah or Isaiah 44 to say that Christians should not have Christmas trees. Not one of these texts, in the context of how they were written, has anything to do with forbidding the celebration of Christmas or Christmas trees.

Principle number four is to watch out for the argument that because Christmas is not commanded in the Word of God that Christians should not celebrate it. If this is true, Jesus should not have celebrated Purim. We also should then never use an overhead, a piano, a keyboard, hymnals, or even a church building (because none of these are in the Bible). If you hold to that line of argument you better take off your wedding ring because they can be tied back to pagan origins and are not in the Bible either.

Principle number five is to recognize that the meanings of words change. December used to be a time to celebrate false gods. It also used to be a time of celebrating the Catholic Mass. Today, Christmas is no longer just about the Mass of Christ. To give you an example of how the meanings of words change, the 1611 edition of the King James used the following words:

Leasing meant lying

Meat meant food

Room meant seat

Quick meant living

Fetched a compass meant circled

Words change, and their meanings change. This is exactly what has happened with Christmas. For a long-time celebrating Christmas used to mean you were a Catholic. It is not just a pagan day anymore, and it is not just a Catholic day anymore. When you think of Thursday, you are not thinking of the God of thunder even though that is what it used to mean. When you think of Sunday, you don’t think of the worship of the sun or of the moon on Monday. They lost their pagan meanings long ago, and the same is true of Christmas.

Principle number six is to recognize the clear warning of Scripture to be separate from the world. In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul made it clear to the Church that our worship of Christ should be separate from the worship of the world. Starting in verse 14 he taught:

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

Therefore come out from among them and be separate says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean and I will receive you. I will be Father to you and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty (2 Cor. 6:14-18).

This is very much the issue at hand concerning being a part of the Body of Christ and separate from the false worship of the world. This means believers should not take part in the Mass of Christ and this means that believers should avoid the ecumenical worship services that are common around Christmas where believers are mixing their worship with groups that do not have biblical faith. If you decide that you are going to celebrate Christmas, you must wrestle with how you are going to keep your worship of Christ separate from what the world is doing. The world should be able to tell the difference.

Principle number seven is a warning to parents to be careful with the issue of Santa Claus. The confusion between Santa and Christ can be a real problem for some kids. Be careful telling your children about some man who is said to be all knowing, who is said to be the sovereign judge, and the one that alone decides who has been good or bad when he comes to town. Pray about it as parents. Talk about it with one another and use caution and wisdom.

Principle number eight is to not let the world define Christmas for you. Gifts are fine. There is nothing wrong with decorating (as long as it does not go against the written revelation of God). There is nothing wrong with worshipping God for choosing to send His Son. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars and you don’t have to go into debt, but you certainly should keep the focus on Jesus Christ.

Principles for the Church

Recognize that within the Church there will be some differences of opinion. The more I grow in my Christian faith the more I think the words of Romans 14 apply to this issue. In Romans 14 some Christians understood they had the freedom to eat meat, but others felt that they did not. Let’s just hit the high points of this chapter. In verse 1 Paul writes, “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.” When he says the weak in faith, notice that Paul instructs us to receive one who is weak in the faith. Don’t exclude any members of the Body of Christ just because there are disagreements over small things or because of disputes over doubtful things (fighting over small things). None of these issues they were dealing with affected the major doctrines of the faith. Christmas is one of these issues that fall under this category.

Look at verses 3 from Romans, “Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.” The entire point of verses 3 and 4 is not to judge one another in these matters. This is one thing we as Christians are good at, judging one another. As families we are going to come to different conclusions about Christmas. Some will abstain and have nothing to do with it. Others will have a tree, a meal, and even some gifts, but they will do it with the focus on being that Jesus Christ (the long-awaited Messiah) came to die for our sins. But here is the key: Paul is saying that we cannot judge one another. Paul continues starting in verse 4:

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 (Rom. 14:4-6).

Paul went on to remind the Christians that they belong to the Lord and that they should not judge one another because we will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ.

In verse 13 Paul continued, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” Paul was instructing us to quit judging one another. Don’t cause problems for your brother and sister in the Lord. In that day it meant that if your brother was offended by the eating of meat don’t have them over for a pig roast.

If you know a fellow believer in the Church who is really offended by something with Christmas, don’t push it on them. This warning should also be heeded when we decorate a church or plan services. Notice Paul’s statement in verse 14, “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” Paul is speaking as an Apostle and he says I am convinced that nothing is really considered clean or unclean. We are not under the Law, we are under grace. But if you can’t eat meat in good faith, don’t do it. If you struggle with Christmas and want to limit yourself that is fine, as long as you don’t push it on your brothers or sisters in Christ (as long as they are doing nothing that violates the clear teaching of Scripture). In verse 19 Paul writes, “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” Build each other up instead of tearing each other down.

Paul’s conclusion on the matter is found in verse 22, “Do you have faith?” Is it all right in your eyes to eat the meat? It is all right in your eyes to have a tree in your house in celebration of the Savior’s birth? Paul writes, “Have it.” Have that faith, “to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.”

But what if you don’t feel you can eat the meat? What if you don’t feel you can celebrate on December the 25th at all? Look at verse 23, “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.” Paul told the believers if you can’t eat the meat in good faith don’t do it. If you can’t do it in good faith then it’s wrong to try. If you feel it is wrong to have anything to do with celebrating Christ’s birth on December 25th, don’t do it, because for you it would be sin.

There will be differences of opinion on this issue until the time of Christ’s return. Focus on love. If your focus is on checking out whether or not your brother or sister in Christ has a Christmas tree, your focus is off. Your focus is not on Christ.

The second principle for the Church is let us not promote a legalistic attitude, but instead let us live and promote living in grace. Each man and each woman is accountable to Christ. Let us not create a legalistic atmosphere. I do not get offended when people wish me Merry Christmas because I recognize that the meaning has changed to include not just Catholics who are celebrating the Mass of Christ, and I honestly do not think for a second a single person in our church fellowship is intending to worship at the Mass of Christ or the false gods that have faded away into the pages of history.

Third, if there are songs in our hymnal that are traditional Christmas songs and you want to sing them during our time of worship, feel free. I don’t care if you want to sing them in June or December. However, my only request is that you look over the words first and make sure they line up with the Word of God. Recognize that a number of them have doctrinal errors (We Three Kings, Holy Night, etc.). Let’s work together to try to avoid them so we can accurately portray the biblical account.

The final principle for the Church is to make it clear to the lost people that our faith is different. If you celebrate Christmas you need to make an extra effort on this, to demonstrate that Christ is your focus.

A Final Word

One of our country’s greatest poets was Henry Longfellow. In 1860 Longfellow was enjoying life. His work was starting to be recognized. He was personally excited about the election of Abraham Lincoln because he wanted to see freedom in this country for all men. The following year the Civil War began. Then on July the 9th of 1861, his wife Fanny was near an open window sealing locks of her daughter’s hair, using hot sealing wax. Suddenly her dress caught fire and engulfed her with flames. Henry was sleeping in the next room and woke up to the horrible sound of his wife screaming as she burned. He desperately tried to put out the fire and save his wife. He ended up burning both his face and his hands. His wife Fanny died the next day. His burns were so severe that he could not even make it to his wife’s funeral.

Most people picture and remember Longfellow with a white beard. This is the reason he grew that beard. His face was so scarred from the burns that it made shaving almost impossible. Listen to what he wrote in his diary for Christmas day in 1861, “How inexpressibly sad are the holidays.” In 1862, the number of people that had died from the war began to climb and in his diary for that year Longfellow wrote of Christmas, “A merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.” In 1863, his son who had run away to join the Union Army was severely wounded and returned home in December. There is no entry in his diary for that Christmas.

But on Christmas Day 1864, at age 57, Longfellow sat down to try to capture, if possible, the joy of the season. He began:

I heard the bells of Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play

And wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth good will to men

As he came to the third stanza, he was stopped by the thought of the condition of his beloved country. The Battle of Gettysburg was not long past, the days ahead looked dark. I have to imagine at this point in the song he asked himself the question, “How can I write about peace on earth and good will to men in this war-torn country where brother fights against brother and father against son?” But he kept writing:

And in despair I bowed my head

There is no peace on earth I said

For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth good will to men

In other words, he recognized the reality that there was no peace in this world without the Lord Jesus Christ. And so he turned his thoughts to the Lord, the only One who can give true and perfect peace. He then wrote next:

Then peeled the bells more loud and deep

God is not dead nor doth he sleep

The wrong shall fail the right prevail

With peace on earth good will to men

Meaning that God will one day usher in His peace on earth. That is how the Christmas song, “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day” came into being.

This certainly strikes at the heart of the issue. This present world is a mess and will continue to be until Jesus Christ returns to usher in His peace.

I believe that Christmas can be a time of both looking back at the first Advent of Christ, but also looking forward to the time when He comes again to usher in His glorious Kingdom.

Certain things about this time of year do bother me (the ecumenical spirit, the commercialism and the amount of money wasted, the Church of Rome and their false worship of Christ), but in all of our efforts to remain set apart from the world let us never forget that 2,000 years ago Jesus Christ came into this world in order to take our place on the Cross. He came to pay the penalty of our sins. God, the Creator of the universe, humbled himself and stepped into time as a newborn babe out of His love for us. That is worth celebrating.

Husbands and wives sit down together to talk about these things. Pray about these things. And however you spend your time in December, make Jesus Christ the center of it.

Pastor Mark Fontecchio

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