We are coming to the end of the year and the preparations are beginning for what, to many people and especially the children, is the prettiest and most agreeable festival of the year - Christmas. In the Western world it is the celebration which contains most legends, folklore, amusements, exchange of cards and presents, decorations inside and outside the home, generous meals for eating and drinking, strengthening and renewal of friendships, and a level of cordiality above the average of the rest of the year.
People, in their majority, celebrate the feast itself as something traditional and good and give little or no thought to its origin, nearly wiped out in the shadow of the centuries and even millennia which have gone by. Some researchers have published their findings for those who are interested, in books, magazines or the internet, and they remain as curiosities.
In the mind of many there is still a connection between this celebration and the birth of Christ, a connection of more than a thousand years and commemorated by the vast majority of Christian churches. With this tradition legends and distortions of the events recorded in the Gospels have been developed and amply spread. We are not going to examine them here, because they are many, but they resemble a multiplicity of other distortions added to the Word of God, like holy water, miraculous change of bread and wine into flesh and blood, etc.
Because of this, the believer who does not wish to be contaminated with the world and the works of darkness begins to seriously doubt whether he should personally take part in the Christmas festivities and if his church should celebrate Christmas like the others. Let us see whether we can help to solve his dilemma.
There is no reference in the Bible to the observance of a particular day in the calendar to celebrate the birth of our Saviour, nor to the use of a tree called "Christmas Tree" on this day. They are traditions only. Those who refuse to do anything which is not explicitly required in the Bible use this as a motive to exclude themselves from the celebrations. As the apostle Paul said: "Let each be fully convinced in his own mind" (Romans 14:5) - this being so, and if they are not convinced that they can do something not mentioned in the Bible, they do well in assuming this attitude.
But we shall go ahead with those who also obey Paul: "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and enquire, in the light of Scripture, if there is any good in celebrating Christmas and in having a Christmas tree at home, as there is no prohibition in the Bible to doing so.
A verse giving guidance in a general way is Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy - meditate on these things." This verse is so clear that it requires no explanation. Here we have an excellent sifter given us by the Bible to verify if something is "good" as said by Paul.
Let us analyse the day of Christmas, commemorated in its authentic form as the occasion in which we remember the special day in which the Lord Jesus was born amongst us as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. Is it true? Certainly, and as we don’t know the precise date any date of the calendar may be agreed to. Is it noble? Yes, for it is honourable, worthy. Just? Yes, considering the One whose birthday is being celebrated. Pure? Yes, if we celebrate with a pure heart. Lovely? Likewise. Of good report? Yes, even the world celebrates it as a celebration of friendship, something positive. Is there any virtue in it? Yes, it is a new opportunity for us to speak of the divine gift to sinful humanity, the coming of God’s only begotten Son into the world. In doing this we can dissipate many myths which exist concerning His birth, as well as speak about the motive for His coming, and of salvation for all who believe. It is a unique opportunity to preach the Gospel to those who come to the celebration in the church. Is there anything praiseworthy? Yes, we praise God for this day. Answer: it is good for the believer to celebrate Christmas.
Let us analyse the Christmas tree, preferably a pine tree or some other conifer, with its natural sweet smell, decorated and lit up. It illustrates some of the attributes of Jesus Christ (John 1): His eternity (the pine tree stays green throughout winter), the Light shining in the darkness (the lighting), His plenitude - grace on grace (the decorations and presents). Now, the sifter: Is it true? Yes. Is it noble? Yes. Just? Yes. Pure? Yes. Lovely? Yes. Of good report? Yes. Is there any virtue in it? Yes, an excellent illustration. Is there anything praiseworthy? Yes, for it reminds us to praise the Lord Jesus for all He means to us. Answer: it is good for the believer to have a Christmas tree at home.
There are some people who make objections because of the inappropriate use made in the past, or is even being made at present, both of the day and of the tree. We should remember that it is the manner in which we use them that is inappropriate or even sinful, not the date or the tree. This is where the good report comes in as part of the sifter: if, for example, an object is associated with the practice of evil, like idolatry, it may fail the test; the image of a saint, for example. I don’t know anybody who today would immediately associate a Christmas tree with idolatry which would have been practised in antiquity among primitive tribes of the Nordic countries … Any association of this kind is forced on by someone who took the trouble to search what was done in antiquity. It is not of today.
Finally, trees figure a lot in Scripture, the main one being the tree of life which appears in the beginning (Gen 2:9) and at the end (Rev 22:19) and another, the fatal tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:9,17). Both were good, for all that God made was good, but the second brought bad consequences because of the bad use made of it by man. The Lord Jesus was placed in a manger when He was born, perhaps of wood, he was a carpenter by profession, and gave His life on a wooden cross …
"He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord …" (Romans 14:6)
Matthew 1:18 to 2:12
18 ¶ Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
1 ¶ Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
9 ¶ When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
Luke 2:1 to 20
1 ¶ And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 ¶ And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.