Saturday, January 16, 2016

Have Yourself a Pagan Little Holiday

Ah, Christmastime. A time for joy, eggnog, and controversy.

Last year, my wife and I celebrated our first Christmas as us. Part of being an us meant having to stand- if with all the confidence of Bambi on ice- on our own convictions.

I had seen my parents, and other families, go through it before- Saturnalia, druids, and evergreen idols. This year, though, God brought the issues into razor-sharp focus, as our entire church came face-to-face with this issue.

Is the tree really an idol? Is the Grinch really a reformer waging war on idolatry? Can I get some eggnog with a shot of paganism, please?

It's an emotional topic, because if the answer is "yes," then a lot of fun memories and happy traditions need to be torn down like so many asherim, burned with the yule log, and buried with a sprig of holly through their heart.

But we must be willing for the answer to be "yes," or there is no purpose in asking the question. As with any other question which we take to Scripture, a good first step would be an examining of our own hearts- are we really ready to follow wherever God calls us to go? If we aren't ready to submit to any answer, then why bother seeking an answer at all?

There are many Godly believers who celebrate Christmas, and many who do not; furthermore, there are many from either camp who could argue their position very convincingly.

But last year, as my wife and I wrestled through it, I felt like The Lord clearly and decisively answered my questions about Christmas. I'm writing it down here because I'm sure the discussion will come up again and I don't want to forget what I learned. I'm also hoping that it will be a blessing to others who are or will be wrestling with the same issues.

So, without further ado- is it permissible, let alone good, for Christians to celebrate Christmas?

The Christmas issue boiled down in my mind to a few doubts that hovered like the shadow of an enormous Ebenezer Scrooge over the lights and the trees and the stockings. I'm going to focus on those here.

What about the Jewish feasts?

I have in the past participated in "Passover" celebrations which served as a way to look back on Christ as the fulfillment thereof, and insofar as the Old Covenant feasts are enjoyed as educational and historical exercises which teach us about Christ they are wonderful opportunities.

But if God decreed these feasts- some of which He called perpetual, and commanded for generational observance- why are we not celebrating them yearly? Why are we not quite literally religious about them? Shouldn't we be celebrating the Jewish feasts as a matter of obedience to God's Word?

No. We should not. What's more, we cannot.

The feasts were part of the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant- laws which, unlike the moral and judicial laws, were abrogated in Christ, their Fulfillment. To which you say, "prove it, bub," and rightly so; we cannot just go cherry-picking through the Law of God, deciding which ones sound fun for us to keep and which ones are too old-fashioned. So is there a Biblical basis for calling some of God's Laws "ceremonial," and for saying that we are not obligated to keep them?

In Hebrews 9:8-11, we see that the laws regarding "food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body" are appointed until "a time of reformation," namely, "when Christ appeared." That verse succinctly clarifies what exactly the "ceremonial law" is. But noticeably absent from this list is any mention of feasts or festivals.

Hebrews 10:12, however, tells us that Christ was the final sacrifice. We are no longer supposed to follow the laws about sacrificing animals, because those laws pointed to Christ, and He has come and fulfilled them once for all. It is now not only unnecessary but actually blasphemous to sacrifice animals, because The Lamb has come, and we should not look to anything else for our atonement.

What does this have to do with the Jewish feasts? Many or all of them involved offering sacrifices. Most notably, Passover- the yearly passover lamb which pointed to the once-for-all Lamb to be slain for the sins of the world.

Since sacrifices are inherently woven into the feast and festival laws of the Old Covenant, and since the sacrifices are fulfilled in Christ, the feasts must also be fulfilled in Christ. We cannot keep the feasts for obedience, because we cannot actually follow the prescribed method for celebrating those feasts- through sacrificing animals!

One more note- our church celebrates the New Covenant passover every week, when we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lamb who delivered us from the Egypt of sin.

That's a New One

Fine, but we still have to answer- why Christmas?

Nowhere in Scripture does God command or even model the celebration of Christmas. So the question haunted my mind like Marley's ghost- do we have any Biblical precedent for creating new festivals like Christmas?

Yes. We do. In the book of Esther, after the Jews routed their enemies, Mordecai instituted the feast of Purim as a yearly holiday to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews. That's a new feast- a man-made holiday- commemorating an act of God in history. So there is Biblical precedent for making holidays of remembrance- and what better to remember than the advent (Christmas) and resurrection (Easter) of the Messiah?

Druids and Yule Logs and Solstice, Oh My!

That's all well and good, but isn't Christmas a pagan festival with Jesus sprinkled on top? Didn't the church just take idolatry and churchify it so that Christians could feel better about keeping right on sacrificing to the Baals?

This question is really twofold.

First, there is the question of whether the Christians stole a pagan holiday or the pagans stole a Christian holiday. The idea that the Christians began celebrating Christmas on their own is a very tenable position (an argument can even be made that the magi actually arrived in Bethlehem on December 25th- see this amazing film for more on that), but I do not have the historical knowledge to argue it here; for the moment it will suffice to say that it is at least debatable that Christmas actually does have pagan roots.

For a moment, though, let's give the Christmas critics a freebie. Let's assume for the sake of argument that Christmas is rooted in pagan celebrations full of dark deeds and idolatrous traditions.

If that is the case, then the church of Jesus Christ took a pagan celebration and transformed it into a yearly remembrance of the birth of Christ which is now celebrated worldwide.

I would call that a victory.

Why would we want to surrender such a glorious heritage- our Christian forefathers tearing December 25th out of the hands of the godless and claiming it for Christ? That it still proclaims like the herald angels the advent of our Lord is evidenced all around, from the stars and nativities to the carols and choruses to the very fact that the nations rage against the word "Christmas."

The Name of Christ is the Name seared into the season of Christmastime.

Rather than abandoning it to the pagans of today, it is for us as believers to take a cue from Saint Nicolas and take a stand for our King. (Next time Arius says "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings," he's in for it.)

The nations may rage, but He Who sits in the heavens laughs. And since He came down to earth and bought us with His blood, we should laugh too.


I can't wait for next year...

#JoyToTheWorld #TheLordIsCome