Here’s why I’m writing this: I’ve had one parent ask me questions about how to talk to their children about Santa Claus. In that conversation other matters about Christmas came up. My guess is at times and in various ways others have questioned the Christmas season and what to do with it. Facebook posts and social media that come my way indicate a heightened concern about the history of the season, let alone its present commercialized state. The following is an extremely concise attempt to address how I’ve come to think about the season. As always, I’d be glad to visit more with you.
Should we observe the birth of Christ?
The problems with observing His birth:
First, we have no command for it in the Bible, nor is there any record in Scripture of anyone doing so. As best I can tell setting aside a day to observe Christ’s birth started some 300 years after the time of Christ.
Second, in my estimation it’s quite difficult to pin point the actual day of Christ’s birth. In fact, there’s much debate if we even have the right season of year.
Third, history seems to indicate some degree of borrowing traditions from pagan festivals and ‘Christianizing’ them.
So, if Scripture is to be our final source of authority for all matters of faith and practice – and a day to celebrate Christ’s birth isn’t commanded or mentioned, should we? Are we adding to the Scriptures by doing so?
The privilege of doing so:
It’s hard not to get a sense of awe and celebration from the biblical record of Christ’s virgin conception, His birth, and the reason for such.
Consider the weighty good news of the angel to Joseph: He (this child conceived of the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb) will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:18-26).
Consider the shepherds’ response after seeing and hearing heavenly host praising God and telling them of the birth of Jesus — and their going to see the Child (Luke 2:9-20).
Read the rest of the accounts in Matthew and Luke. There is awe throughout. Mary, Elizabeth, Zacharias, Simeon, Anna – I think ‘weighty joy’ is a good description of their responses to the birth of Christ.
It’s true, we have no record of anyone making an annual observation of Christ’s birth. But it would be unnatural for those involved not to have been annually reminded of the unmistakable miraculous eternally-significant event they were part of and witnessed. Further, if we believe we are part of ‘His people’ whom Jesus has saved from their sins, are we not also humbled and awed at the historic reality of Christ’s conception and birth? We may not get the specific day or time of year spot on, but the incarnation was an eternally cataclysmic historic event!
My conclusion: setting aside a season to think about, rejoice and praise God for what He has done for us in sending His Son can be God honoring. However, since it is not commanded, we must not make it a law as to how exactly that should be done. That leads me to the following.
The Principle of Romans 14 – FREEDOM
In not-explicitly commanded, or what is clearly moral/immoral behavior, and non-spiritual/doctrinal matters, believers are to be lovingly patient with each other in what we practice. Some believers will have freedom to practice and do some activities; others may not have that freedom (14;22,23). Neither side is to insist the other observe or do what they practice, or don’t.
Since observing of Christ’s birth is not commanded, I think the principles of Romans 14 apply. Paul writes that one person may regard one day above another; for another believer, every day is alike. “Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.” He who observes it does so for the Lord.. he who doesn’t does so for the Lord (14:5,6).
When it comes to Christmas, believers are not bound; celebrating it and to what degree, or not celebrating is a matter of freedom. You can decide, in faith, what you may or may not do. Further, our positions may not necessarily be permanent; it seems Paul implies our decisions of participating or not can morph over time as we grow in our knowledge of God’s grace and Christ’s sufficiency (14:1).
The Principle of Colossians 2:8-19 – THE DAY ISN’T THE POINT, CHRIST ALWAYS IS
We would be demeaning Christ and sinning by making the day or season obligatory — making it a requirement for ourselves or others. Our being saved isn’t dependent on specific days or seasons; we’re saved and kept so by Christ Himself! I believe
If we do not understand the weight of the miracle of Christ’s incarnation, it is because we do not understand the weight of the holiness of God. The incarnation is shocking. It is outrageous to think that an infinite and holy God would voluntarily become finite to live with unholy sinners. In fact, the incarnation is so appalling that it separates Christianity from Islam and Judaism. The Jerusalem Talmud says, “If man claims to be God, he is a liar” (Ta’anit 2:1), while the Qur’an says, “Allah begets not and was not begotten” (Sura al-Ikhlas 112). Jews and Muslims understand how ludicrous it is to think that a holy God would humiliate himself by becoming human.
– B Jenkins
that’s the application we can get from Colossians 2. Yes, there is a degree of truth in saying, ‘keep Christ in Christmas.’ But since it was never commanded by Christ, insisting it be observed, or how it be observed, is no one’s place to decree.
Your Pastor’s Conclusions
Recognize the season as the mixed bag it is:
Our Lord repeatedly warned His followers there would be much done in His name that really wasn’t of Him. The little drummer boy and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer prove His point. Has the season become commercialized? Of course – even worse! But to assume several hundred years ago the world got Christmas completely right is an idea painted for us by Currier and Ives. If there never has been a standard established by God to observe Christ’s birthday, then how could anyone ever have gotten it right? Let’s not think our traditions or X-mas indignation is all that pure when the season was never commanded of us in the first place.
Gluttony, drunkenness, moral and financial recklessness are associated with the worship of false gods, not the honoring of the one true God (I Cor. 10:1-13).
Insisting others observe Christmas traditions is far more akin to sin than others not observing them (Rom. 14:4). For example: correcting (or expressing indignation to others) about store clerks saying ‘Seasons greetings’ not ‘Merry Christmas.’
Idolizing the season can come in various ways; I’ll mention one:
Insisting the season meet your felt needs of ‘peace, love, harmony, etc. is sentimental idolatry. Seasonal letdown, or depression are the bitter fruit of unholy expectations. Since it was never commanded by a good God, our emotional/spiritual state in the season should be the fruit of what doesn’t come and go – knowing and being known by the God of the universe, forever kept by His Son Jesus Christ.
If you’re making Santa God-like, repent. There are several options parents and grands have regarding Santa Claus. Lying isn’t one of them. I recently heard of a young girl who said both Santa and Jesus/God see her and know at all times what she’s does. My problem is with the Christian parent habitually attributing divine attributes to Santa (He sees you when you’re sleeping… he knows when you’ve been bad or good). It may seem insignificant and clever at the time, but I’m not convinced it’s harmless. Before it says anything about the child, it raises questions about parents’ awe of the holiness of God (I Peter 1;17-21; Eph. 6:4; Psalm 139).
What to do with Santa? Here are three suggestions:
One, do your homework and tell your kids about the historic man, St. Nicholas, who apparently had a history of giving gifts (but beware of swallowing the legends that have arisen about him). Do your best to explain how over time people developed the legend of Santa Claus. You’ll have to decide where to go from there.
Two, simply tell your kids Santa is not real and avoid all references to him; just stick with the Christmas story and tell them from whom they’re receiving presents, etc.
Three, here’s what we did: we medicated Santa Claus with a large dose of goofiness. We let our children know from the git-go Santa was pretend – like a cartoon character. We made jokes about him. We sang (loudly), ‘Gramma got run over by a reindeer.’ And yes, on occasion Dawn and I acted out, “I saw momma kissing Santa Claus” (my favorite). When our children came to understand some of their friends believed Santa was real, we didn’t go on a ‘Santa Isn’t Real Crusade.’ We told our children that it wasn’t their job to make a big deal out of it; that was the job of parents of their friends. Did our kids abide by that? Probably not! But I think in the end, our children learned through that, their dad and mom were truth tellers.
My conclusion: Enjoy the Christmas season for what it is, an imperfect but useable means to express our awe and joy in all God does for us in Christ Jesus.