Can Christ Be Put into Christmas?
Will clergymen succeed in their efforts to put Christ into Christmas? What does the Bible say about Christmas? Does it tell us when Jesus was born?
“LET’S put Christ back into Christmas!” Those are the recent words of evangelist Billy Graham. Even before this popular evangelist made such a request, observing persons have come to doubt that Christ is in Christmas. Now that more and more religious leaders are requesting that Christ be put into Christmas, it is becoming more and more evident that he is not in Christmas.
Readers of the Corpus Christi Caller of December 28, 1956, for example, were reminded under the editorial heading ‘Too Much’ that the Christlike spirit was missing. Said the newspaper:
“It is a strange folk-manifestation, the way we celebrate the Nativity. If we Americans don’t drink too much, we over-eat, and it is a toss-up which one places the greater strain on the human anatomy. It is a time when intemperate drinking and eating exact their toll, and moderation in all things flies out the window. The spirit of Christmas as we Americans play it is distinguished chiefly by excesses—too much running hither and yon, too much eating and drinking, too much spending, too much loss of sleep and rest, too much of everything—except the true spirit of Christmas, which somehow gets lost in the shuffle.”
CELEBRATED BY NON-CHRISTIANS
This too much of everything except Christianity on Christmas Day was commented upon last year by a Jewish rabbi. Over the NBC radio network Dr. Maurice N. Eisendrath, president of The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, spoke on the subject “A Rabbi Looks at Christmas.”
“Has not Christmas become a universal holiday observed by all?” asked Rabbi Eisendrath. “Have not its specifically Christian characteristics and teachings receded into the background, while its more general observance, as a time of lighthearted gift-giving and jovial, even sometimes hilarious partying, has taken over? . . . Do not the voices of the radio and television pitchmen drown out the still small voice of the erstwhile more deeply-moving Christmas carols? Are not the decorations on the streets outside assuming an importance and a role of even greater significance than the message within the heart of peace on earth to men of good will?
“At least so it seems to one who watches from the sidelines—and virtually no one in America is on the sidelines . . . Yes, like the rest of their fellow Americans, many of my brother Jews are likewise captivated by the general atmosphere of this season, and are far from the sidelines. They are in the midst of the jostling, swarming throngs, doing their Christmas shopping, too . . . . Which leads me to the very first thing which I, as a rabbi, would like to say about Christmas.
“If I were a Christian minister instead of a Jewish teacher, there is nothing that I would lament so much, and bitterly resent, as this wholesale transformation by myriads of Christians, by some Jews, and many non-believers in either Judaism or Christianity, . . . of such a holy day into so heathen a holiday, devoid of its profounder spiritual significance.”
And so Christmas is being called more heathen than Christian. “If Santa steals the spotlight from Jesus,” declared Billy Graham, “we make Christmas a pagan feast-day rather than a Christian holiday.” Can things be changed? Can clergymen put Christ into Christmas? The answer certainly must depend on what Christ’s will is in the matter. We can learn his will by going to the Bible and finding out what it has to say on the subject.
JESUS’ BIRTHDAY NOT DECEMBER 25
The reason for Christmas is supposed to be Jesus’ birthday. Many professed Christians believe his birthday was December 25. Is Christ honored by this date? Encyclopedias tell us that this date is not Christian but pagan, that it was the birthday of Mithras, a false messiah. They tell us, as does The Encyclopedia Americana, that “most of the customs now associated with Christmas were not originally Christmas customs but rather were pre-Christian and non-Christian customs taken up by the Christian church.” So not only is Christ not honored by this date, but it is wrong.
When was Jesus born? The Bible discloses enough information so that we know he was not born on December 25. From this information we also learn when Christ was born.
To learn Jesus’ correct birthday we need to know something about the Bible prophecy of the “seventy weeks,” or as the Revised Standard Version of the Bible calls it, the “seventy weeks of years.” This is found in the book of Daniel, chapter nine, verses twenty-four through twenty-seven. The angel Gabriel gave Daniel this prophecy: “From the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks.”—Dan. 9:25, AV.
So the Bible tells us the set time for Messiah’s appearance. When? It was to be sixty-nine weeks after the command to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem was given. These sixty-nine weeks are not weeks of days but “weeks of years,” in harmony with the Bible rule “each day for a year,” often found in Bible chronology.—Ezek. 4:6; Num. 14:34, AV.
When do these sixty-nine weeks of years begin counting? In 455 B.C. It was in that year, the twentieth year of his reign, that King Artaxerxes decreed that Jerusalem and its walls be rebuilt. This is found at Nehemiah 2:1-8. So starting with 455 B.C., the sixty-nine weeks of years, or 483 years, would end A.D. 29. True to prophecy, that year the Messiah appeared. When Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan A.D. 29 he became the Anointed One, or Christ, or Messiah, by being anointed with God’s holy spirit.
How does all this help us to learn Jesus’ time of birth? Because the prophecy also tells us when the Messiah would be killed. He would be “cut off” or killed in the middle of the seventieth week of years. So Christ’s ministry was only three and a half years in length. Now we need to know how old Jesus was when he began his ministry. The Bible tells us: “Jesus himself, when he commenced his work, was about thirty years old.” It is reasonable to believe, from the custom in those days, that Jesus began his work as soon as he reached thirty years of age.—Luke 3:23.
When Christ died on the torture stake, after a ministry of three and a half years, he was thirty-three and a half years old. His death was at Passover time. That was about the first of April, A.D. 33. So Christ, having died at the age of thirty-three and a half, would have been thirty-four years old six months later, or about October 1. So Jesus was born, not December 25, but about October 1, 2 B.C.
There is supporting evidence for the October date. For example, the Bible tells us that John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus. (Luke 1:26-38) So if we know when John was born we know about when Jesus was born.
The Bible discloses when John was born. John’s father, Zechariah, served as priest just before John was conceived. He belonged to “the division of Abijah.” (Luke 1:5, 8-25) Now 1 Chronicles 24:7-18 tells about the twenty-four divisions of the priests. The division for Abijah, it shows, was the eighth. Of the twenty-four divisions the second round of the eighth division would fall in the fourth Jewish month, or the latter part of June, our calendar. Hence John the Baptist was conceived in the latter part of June, 3 B.C., and so was born in the latter part of March, 2 B.C. Since John was six months older than Jesus, Jesus was born about October 1, 2 B.C.
The Bible, then, does not point to December 25 as the birthday of Jesus. Indeed, this date not only is unsupported by the Bible but is unreasonable, as a comment in Joseph Mede’s Works brings out: “At the birth of Christ every woman and child was to go to be taxed at the city whereto they belonged, whither some had long journeys; but the middle of winter was not fitting for such a business, especially for women with child, and children to travel in. Therefore, Christ could not be born in the depth of winter. Again, at the time of Christ’s birth, the shepherds lay abroad watching with their flocks in the night time; but this was not likely to be in the middle of winter. And if any shall think the winter wind was not so extreme in these parts, let him remember the words of Christ in the gospel, ‘Pray that your flight be not in the winter.’ If the winter was so bad a time to flee in, it seems no fit time for shepherds to lie in the fields in, and women and children to travel in.”
BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION NOT AUTHORIZED
Nowhere in the Bible do we read about the early Christians celebrating Jesus’ birth, not even on the right date. Christ never authorized such a celebration.
Christ told us what date to memorialize. He said to remember the date of his death, not his birth. “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” That is Christ’s command concerning his followers’ keeping the Memorial evening meal. There is no such command regarding his birth.—Luke 22:19.
The Bible says of true Christians that “in no way are we giving any cause for stumbling” and “in every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers.” How? Among other things, “by purity” and “by truthful speech.” What is pure about Christmas? What is truthful about it? Does Christmas recommend Christianity to non-Christians? Is its false date and its honoring of a false messiah and its false Santa Claus something Christ would want to be associated with? The words of Christ’s apostle answer: “Turn down the false stories which violate what is holy.” “Command certain ones not to teach different doctrine, nor to pay attention to false stories and to genealogies which end up in nothing, but which furnish questions for research rather than a dispensing of anything by God in connection with faith.” “Now that you have put away falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor.”—2 Cor. 6:3-7; 1 Tim. 4:7; 1:3, 4; Eph. 4:25.
No matter how good the intentions, men cannot make a pagan holiday and pagan customs Christian by whitewashing them with Christ’s name, for the Scriptural principle is clear: “What partnership do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? Further, what harmony is there between Christ and Belial?”—2 Cor. 6:14, 15.
What, then, becomes apparent? Christ is not in Christmas. And even if the celebration was changed from the pagan December 25 to an October date; even if the Santa Clause myth was completely discarded; even if the celebration saw no more gluttons and drunkards; even if crass immorality and crime did not ravage Christmas; even if the pagan practice of exchanging presents was abandoned; even if the churches instead of the department stores moved into the limelight; yes, even if all this took place—and there is not even a remote possibility of its happening—Christ could not be “put back” into Christmas, since never, at any time, has he ever been in Christmas! How unreasonable, how preposterous, then, for any professed Christian, clergyman or otherwise, to think that humans can put Christ into Christmas—the whole principle of which is contrary to the Scriptures!
That is why true Christians shun Christmas, thus obeying the Bible command: “Quit touching the unclean thing.”—2 Cor. 6:17.