Every year, Grace Church gets a handful of letters from people asking why our church celebrates Christmas. In fact, it is not unusual for some people to actually picket our church’s Christmas concerts (picture a hippi-esque anti-war ensemble replete with protest signs), and those people would probably keel over if they saw the giant Christmas trees we have in our plaza.
Today, for the Christian haters of Christmas, I give as my gift my answers to the most common questions from those that object to the celebration of Christmas:
1. What is Christmas?
Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ incarnation. This is actually the most critical of all the questions. When Christmas is simply seen as the celebration of God becoming man, the rest of the questions should grow wings and take flight.
2. Why is there a Christmas?
There is a Christmas because for there to be a sacrifice for sins, the sacrifice had to be sinless. Thus, the Messiah had to be both God and man. Moreover, he had to come to earth, born to a child of Eve, as Gen 3:15 prophesied. This is the main event prophesied in the OT, and the coming of the Messiah to earth (and his subsequent death and resurrection) is the subject of the entire NT. Obviously, Jesus Christ is the most significant person in history, and his life gives the believer every possible reason to celebrate.
We don’t know what actual day of the year Jesus was literally born. From piecing together the historical data, we can tell the year with relative certainty (3 BC, most likely—and if you disagree, please don’t hijack the comment thread). Some argue for a spring birth by saying that shepherds generally were not in the fields during winter, but that has never been persuasive to me (aren’t shepherds always in the fields?). Ultimately, we don’t know the date, the month, or even the season with certainty.
4. If it is Jesus’ birthday, why do we give gifts to each other?
Christmas is not so much Jesus’ birthday, as it is a celebration of God giving his son to the world. “Birthday” sort of trivializes it. But we give gifts because Christmas is a celebration of God’s gift to us. Christmas is an occasion to show love and joy to those whom we love, and it is a time of celebration. Gifts are simply a way to express that joyful celebration.
Beyond that, Christians are celebratory people. We sing (do any other religions do that?), we send cards, we give gifts, we have parties, and we orient a significant amount of our life around the celebration of God becoming man. Gifts are simply one element of that.
The incarnation is described in Matthew, Luke, and Phil 2, as well as other passages. It is prophesied in the OT, and described without the traditional accompaniment of wise men and angels in John 1.
By this question, some people I think are trying to use the regulative principle. Their implication is if scripture doesn’t describe setting aside a particular day for celebration, then Christians should not do so either. Austin helpfully deals with the regulative principle here, but regardless, if this question is understood as celebrating a particular day, then it becomes a Romans 14 issue, where each of us is allowed to do what seems best.
6. By celebrating Christmas, is the church teaching a tradition?
Christmas itself is a celebration of the incarnation, and Peter says that we did not receive cleverly invented tales or traditions, but rather that the gospel is divinely inspired and testified through the Bible (2 Peter 1:16).
There are traditions associated with the way in which we celebrate Christmas (such as trees, fancy dinners, school breaks, December 25, stockings, cards, etc.), and of course these are not taught in the Bible. They are cultural celebrations that we enjoy, and that we use to point other people to Jesus. My family loves the stockings, tree, and advent calendar, but eschews Santa, as that seems to distract us from Jesus. But it is an area of personal freedom in Christ, so we don’t make a big deal of it.
Obviously the celebration of Christmas has jumped the banks of Christianity, and is pretty well embraced by everyone—pagan and Christian alike (I hear it is huge in China, for example). I guess in that sense it is like the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Memorial day, Labor Day, etc. Christians are generally pretty good about using it (along with Thanksgiving and some other days) to point back to Jesus. It has becomes an evangelistic time.
Christmas is the celebration of the incarnation of the second person of the trinity, which is hardly a pagan concept. The fact that our culture even embraces Christmas aids the evangelistic spirit of the season. Obviously Wal-Marts and Santa sleights get the message wrong most of the time. But as Christians, I think it is wonderful to take time every year to celebrate the fact that God became a man.