Christmas—Is It the Way to Welcome Jesus?
THE birth of the Savior, the long-awaited Messiah, was indeed a time for rejoicing. “Look!” announced an angel to shepherds in the vicinity of Bethlehem, “I am declaring to you good news of a great joy that all the people will have, because there was born to you today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” A multitude of angels joined in, praising God: “Glory in the heights above to God, and upon earth peace among men of goodwill.” (Luke 2:10-14) Some may conclude that Christians should imitate the angels in expressing joy over the coming of Christ to earth back then.
This was not the first Bible record of angels bursting into songs of praise. When the foundation of the earth was laid, “the morning stars joyfully cried out together, and all the sons of God began shouting in applause.” (Job 38:4-7) The exact date of this event is not recorded in the Bible. (Genesis 1:1, 14-18) However joyful the occasion may have been, Christians have not argued that because the angels applauded, they should annually celebrate the creation of the earth and perhaps adopt a pagan festival to commemorate the occasion.
Yet that is just what people who celebrate Christmas are doing to the birth of Jesus Christ. A look into most any reliable encyclopedia under the heading “Christmas” confirms that the date of Jesus’ birth is not known. The Bible is silent when it comes to that date.
“If the Trumpet Sounds an Indistinct Call”
“God is a God, not of disorder, but of peace,” wrote the apostle Paul, in correcting the disorderliness of the congregation in ancient Corinth. In the same context, he asked: “If the trumpet sounds an indistinct call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8, 33) Now, if a God of order intended to have Christians celebrate the birth of his Son on the earth, would He leave it to imperfect men to choose arbitrarily a date from pagan festivals and to adopt ungodly practices?
Examining a few Biblical examples clarifies that Jehovah God does not deal with his people in that way. When he required the Israelites to keep annual celebrations under the Mosaic Law, God designated specific dates and told them how to observe those festive occasions. (Exodus 23:14-17; Leviticus 23:34-43) Jesus Christ, although never commanding his birth to be commemorated, did command his followers to observe one specific date. “In the night in which he was going to be handed over,” Nisan 14, 33 C.E., Jesus initiated the celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal, using unleavened bread and wine. He commanded: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23, 24) The trumpet sound as to when and how to observe the Lord’s Evening Meal is clear and unmistakable. Then what about Christmas? Nowhere in the Bible do we find any command to celebrate the birth of Christ, nor does it tell us when or how.
‘To Win People’
“Oh, of course I know Christmas is of pagan origin,” said a clergyman at a Tokyo Zion Church, “but as long as ordinary people are interested in Christianity on December 25 and come to learn the teachings of the Honorable Jesus, Christmas has its place in Christianity.” Many agree with his reasoning. Do you believe that making such compromises is proper?
Some argue that even Paul compromised to gain believers. “I make myself everybody’s slave,” he wrote, “in order to win as many people as possible . . . When working with Gentiles, I live like a Gentile, outside the Jewish Law, in order to win Gentiles. . . . All this I do for the gospel’s sake, in order to share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Today’s English Version) Do these words justify adopting a pagan festival to attract Gentiles to Christianity?
Consider carefully the context of Paul’s statement. In 1Co 9 verse 21, he said: “This does not mean that I don’t obey God’s law; I am really under Christ’s law.” (TEV) So he did not compromise in matters that overstepped Christ’s law, but he ‘lived like a Gentile’ by respecting the local customs and habits as long as these were not against Christian commandments.*
With this in mind, think how the adopting of pagan festivals into “Christianity” under the name of Christmas would appear when viewed in the light of the following Bible command: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? . . . Or what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever? . . . ‘Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing’; ‘and I will take you in.’” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17) No matter what excuses may be offered, adulterating Christianity with pagan festivals is no way to welcome Jesus as a Savior. It would have been inappropriate in the first century when Jesus came in the flesh, and it is just as inappropriate today or in the future, when Christ comes as King to execute God’s judgments. (Revelation 19:11-16) In fact, those who prefer to celebrate pagan festivals behind a “Christian” disguise may well be denying Jesus Christ.
“Hidden Christians” Unrestored
Take a lesson from what happened to Catholics in Japan during the shogun era. When suppression of Catholicism began in 1614, some 300,000 Japanese Catholics had three choices: become martyrs, abandon their faith, or go underground. The ones who went underground were called hidden Christians. To camouflage their faith, they conformed to various Buddhist and Shinto customs. In their liturgy, they used Maria Kannon, which was Mary disguised as a Buddhist bodhisattva in the form of a mother holding a child. Their festivals mixed Buddhism, Catholicism, and folk religion. However, when forced to attend Buddhist funerals, they chanted Christian prayers and performed modoshi, a ceremony to nullify the Buddhist service. What has become of those “Christians”?
“As far as the majority of the Kirishitans [Christians] were concerned,” explains the book The Hidden Christians, “a religious attachment grew in them making it difficult to abandon the worship of Shinto and Buddhist gods.” When the ban was lifted and Catholic missionaries returned to Japan, the majority of those “hidden Christians” clung to their type of fusion religion.
However, could the Catholic Church reasonably criticize those “hidden Christians” who refused to be restored to Roman Catholicism? The Catholic Church has likewise adopted many pagan teachings and festivals, including Christmas. If Catholics and Protestants, though professing to be Christians, have paganized their “Christianity” with heathen festivals, could they not also be rejecting Jesus Christ?
Restored to the True Christianity
Setsuko, a devout Catholic for 36 years, finally came to that realization. After World War II, she had tried to fill her spiritual vacuum by associating with a Catholic church. ‘How satisfying!’ she thought as she attended Christmas Mass and saw gorgeous Christmas trees inside and outside her church. “I felt proud of our beautiful decorations, which outdid those of nearby churches,” she said. Nevertheless, Setsuko really had no understanding of Catholic teachings, though she even taught Sunday school for a while. So when she wanted to become more involved in church work, she asked her priest a few questions. Rather than answering her questions, the priest belittled her. Disappointed, she decided to study the Bible herself. Two weeks later, Jehovah’s Witnesses visited her, and she accepted a home Bible study.
She explains: “It was painful to be faced with Bible truths that refuted my previous beliefs. I even had alopecia neurotica, loss of hair due to being upset. Gradually, however, the light of truth shone into my heart. I was stunned to learn that Jesus could not have been born in a cold, rainy December, when shepherds would not be tending their sheep out in the open at night. (Luke 2:8-12) It shattered my image of the nativity, for we had used cotton wool as snow to decorate scenes of sheep and shepherds.”
After convincing herself of what the Bible really teaches, Setsuko decided to stop celebrating Christmas. She no longer has “the Christmas spirit” once a year but manifests the spirit of cheerful Christian giving every day.
If you sincerely believe in Christ, do not be annoyed when you see pagans polluting Christmas. They are only reiterating what it originally was—a pagan festival. Christmas leads no one to welcome Jesus Christ, who has returned invisibly as a heavenly King. (Matthew, chapters 24 and 25; Mark, chapter 13; Luke, chapter 21) Rather, true Christians show a Christlike spirit all year round, and they declare the good news of the Kingdom, of which Jesus has become King. That is how God wants us to welcome Jesus Christ as our Savior and the King of the Kingdom.—Psalm 2:6-12.
Compare the two ways in which Paul responded on the issue of circumcision. Though he knew that “circumcision does not mean a thing,” he circumcised his traveling companion Timothy, who was Jewish on his mother’s side. (1 Corinthians 7:19; Acts 16:3) In the case of Titus, the apostle Paul avoided having him circumcised as a matter of principle in the struggle with Judaizers. (Galatians 2:3) Titus was a Greek and so, unlike Timothy, did not have legitimate reason to be circumcised. If he, a Gentile, were to become circumcised, ‘Christ would be of no benefit to him.’—Galatians 5:2-4.
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True Christians honor Jesus the year around