Updated: Dec 18, 2019
Sometimes doing Different isn't such a good idea. This 3-part Christmas series
(starting today) departs from my typical themes to talk about why celebrating the season is a good and healthy thing to do. The topic is important because I know of many folks these days who think we should do away with the holiday. It's a "different" based on bad information and limited thinking—not a good foundation for making a radical change.
PEOPLE WHO HAVE TAKEN A SERIOUS LOOK at the Bible know it consists of a variety of literature—historical narrative, personal correspondence, prophetic writings, poetry—but many treat the Bible like a rule book.
They expect Scripture to teach them how to live by presenting a list of do’s and don’ts. But this rigid view doesn’t allow that learning by example is a valid way to discern the truths Scripture teaches.
How do I know? Because of the word celebrate.
Celebration by the Book
Often by November and always by December, I hear from a variety of folks that "real Christians" shouldn’t celebrate Christmas.
The objection to Christmas is laced with concerns about Santa Claus and pagan trappings, but the specifically Bible-based objections are generally something like this:
Christmas isn’t celebrated in the Bible.
The Bible doesn’t tell us to celebrate Christmas, so we shouldn’t.
I talked about Santa Claus in last week's bonus post, "Celebrating Today, in the Nick of Time," and addressing the pagan trappings issue is beyond the scope of this article. So for now, I’ll focus on how we know the Bible says celebrating Christmas is a good idea.
Before looking at the relevant scriptures, though, let’s be clear about what it means to “celebrate.” Here are a couple of definitions to keep in mind from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:
To announce publicly, proclaim;
To extol; praise.
And here are three helpful synonyms: laud, glorify, honor.
Demonstrate to Show Thyself Approved
The quick answer to “Christmas isn’t celebrated in the Bible” is that the objection is simply wrong. It overlooks the extremely obvious demonstration of celebrating Christmas recorded in the Gospels.
You likely know as well as I do the two scriptural examples that tell of Christmas celebrations: Luke 2:1 - 20 and Matthew 1:18 – 2:15.
From Luke, here’s a selection of verses depicting a celebration that matches both dictionary definitions noted above:
But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.” . . . Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!” (2:10-11, 13-14; HCSB)
The angel makes a public proclamation, and then a lot of angels join in glorifying and honoring God (extol; praise). These heavenly beings model a celebration for us.
The Matthew example is a bit more down-to-earth but equally celebratory. Here are the key verses:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” . . . Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (2:1-2, 11; HCSB)
The praise of the wise men meets the criteria of definition #2. They even brought gifts to the birthday party!
No Kidding about This Birth!
Christmas celebration skeptics may think I’m not serious, but I absolutely am. These are bona fide examples of celebrating the birth of Christ, and they are recorded in the Bible.
No, the writers of these passages do not turn to the audience after the stories and tell the reader to go do the same. But should we follow the example of divinely appointed supernatural beings and men who were honored in Scripture for their acts?
Unless you hold the one-dimensional, Bible-as-rulebook view of Scripture—“the Bible doesn’t tell us to celebrate Christmas, so we shouldn’t”—the answer is yes, we should follow their example.
Learning from examples is a significant way in which the Bible tells us what we need to know. The Apostle Paul, for instance, encourages learning by example, using himself as the model. He instructs his followers to “be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16, NASB).
Even Christmas nay-sayers admonish fellow believers to pursue the example of faithful people in Scripture: Abraham and his willingness to go wherever God leads, Job and his endurance in the face of trials, David in being a “man after God’s own heart.” The nay-sayers are just not consistent on the point and have let influences from outside Scripture dissuade them from practicing what is demonstrated in the Bible regarding Christmas.
In a way, learning by example makes it easier to practice what is taught than the rule-book method. To follow the example of those we're supposed imitate, all we have to do is to do what they did.
So, like the angels and wise men from the East: Come, Let us adore Him!
(Next week: Part 2 "Christmas—Do as They Do, Not Just as They Say")
What was the Star of Bethlehem?
This DVD featuring Rick Larson has the best answer I've ever seen. You'll be mind-blown by the research and insights in this video. Add it to your Christmas-watching list!
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