How Should Jesus Christ Be Remembered?
Jesus Christ “was certainly one of the most influential people who ever lived.”—“The World Book Encyclopedia.”
GREAT men are usually remembered for what they did. So why do many remember Jesus for his birth rather than for his deeds? Throughout Christendom, most people can recount the events surrounding his birth. How many recall and strive to apply his superlative teaching as found in the Sermon on the Mount?
Granted, Jesus’ birth was remarkable, but his early disciples attached much more importance to what he did and to what he taught. Surely God never intended Christ’s birth to eclipse his life as a mature man. Yet, Christmas has succeeded in obscuring the person of Christ in a mire of Nativity legends and folklore.
Another disturbing question arises with regard to the nature of Christmas celebrations. If Jesus returned to the earth today, what would he think about the rank commercialism of Christmas? Two thousand years ago, Jesus visited the temple in Jerusalem. He was outraged by money changers and vendors who were taking advantage of a Jewish religious festival to make money. “Take these things away from here!” he said. “Stop making the house of my Father a house of merchandise!” (John 2:13-16) Clearly, Jesus did not approve of mixing commerce and religion.
Many sincere Spanish Catholics express concern about the growing commercial nature of Christmas. Yet, such a trend toward commercialism is probably inevitable in view of the roots of many Christmas practices. Journalist Juan Arias points out: “Those who, within Christianity, criticize the way Christmas has become ‘paganized’ and more devoted to jollity and consumerism than to religion, are generally unaware that even in its origin the Nativity . . . already incorporated many of the features of the Roman pagan festival [of the sun].”—El País, December 24, 2001.
In recent years, many Spanish journalists and encyclopedias have commented on the pagan origins of traditional Christmas festivities, as well as their commercial overtones. Regarding the date for Christmas celebrations, the Enciclopedia de la Religión Católica frankly states: “The reason that the Roman Church decided to assign this date to the festival seems to be its tendency to replace pagan festivals with Christian ones. . . . We know that in Rome at that time, the pagans consecrated December 25 as the celebration of natalis invicti, the birth of the ‘invincible sun.’”
The Enciclopedia Hispánica likewise notes: “The date of December 25 for the celebration of Christmas is not the result of a strict chronological anniversary but, rather, of the Christianization of the festivals of the winter solstice that were celebrated in Rome.” How did the Romans celebrate the rise of the sun in the winter sky? By feasting, revelry, and the exchanging of presents. Since church authorities were loath to abolish such a popular festival, they “Christianized” it by calling it the birth of Jesus instead of the birth of the sun.
At the outset, in the fourth and fifth centuries, attachment to sun worship and its customs died hard. Catholic “Saint” Augustine (354-430 C.E.) felt obliged to exhort fellow believers not to celebrate December 25 as the pagans did in honor of the sun. Even today, the ancient Roman festivities seem to have the upper hand.
The Ideal Festival for Merrymaking and Marketing
Over the centuries, several factors have played a decisive role in molding Christmas into the most popular, international celebration for merrymaking and marketing. Also, the customs of other winter festivals, especially those celebrated in northern Europe, were gradually incorporated into the Roman model.a And in the 20th century, salesmen and marketing specialists enthusiastically promoted any custom that could generate hefty profits.
What has been the result? The celebration of Christ’s birth rather than the significance of it has become of paramount importance. In many cases, even the mention of Christ has practically disappeared from the traditional Christmas. “[Christmas] is a world festival, of a family nature, and everyone celebrates what he or she sees in it,” observes the Spanish newspaper El País.
This comment reflects a growing tendency in Spain and many other countries throughout the world. While Christmas celebrations become ever more extravagant, knowledge of Christ diminishes. In essence, Christmas festivities have largely reverted to what they originally were in Roman times—revelry, feasting, and the exchanging of presents.
A Child Has Been Born to Us
If traditional Christmas has little to do with Christ, how should true Christians remember the birth and life of Christ? Seven centuries before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah prophesied about him: “There has been a child born to us, there has been a son given to us; and the princely rule will come to be upon his shoulder.” (Isaiah 9:6) Why did Isaiah indicate that Jesus’ birth and subsequent role would be so significant? Because Jesus would become a mighty ruler. He would be called Prince of Peace, and there would be no end to peace or to his princely rule. Furthermore, Jesus’ rulership would be sustained “by means of justice and by means of righteousness.”—Isaiah 9:7.
The angel Gabriel echoed Isaiah’s proclamation when he announced Jesus’ coming birth to Mary. “This one will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,” he predicted. “And Jehovah God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule as king over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end of his kingdom.” (Luke 1:32, 33) Clearly, the main significance of Jesus’ birth lay in the work that Christ would accomplish as the appointed King of God’s Kingdom. Christ’s rule can benefit all, including you and your loved ones. In fact, the angels indicated that his birth would bring “peace on earth to those with whom [God] is pleased.”—Luke 2:14, Today’s English Version.
Who does not long to live in a world of peace and justice? But to enjoy the peace that Christ’s rule will bring, we need to please God and have a good relationship with him. Jesus said that the first step to such a relationship is to learn about God and Christ. “This means everlasting life,” Jesus said, “their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.”—John 17:3.
Once we know Jesus well, we need no longer wonder how he would like us to remember him. Would it be by eating, drinking, and exchanging presents on the same date as an ancient pagan festival? That seems unlikely. The night before he died, Jesus told his disciples what he preferred. “He that has my commandments and observes them, that one is he who loves me. In turn he that loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him.”—John 14:21.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have made an extensive study of the Holy Scriptures, which has helped them to understand what the commands of God and Jesus are. They would be pleased to assist you in gaining insight into those vital commands so that you can remember Jesus as he should be remembered.
a The Christmas tree and the figure of Santa Claus are two striking examples.
[Box/Pictures on page 6, 7]
Does the Bible Discourage Feasting and the Giving of Gifts?
The Giving of Gifts
The Bible approves of the giving of presents, Jehovah himself being called the Giver of “every good gift and every perfect present.” (James 1:17) Jesus indicated that good parents would give gifts to their children. (Luke 11:11-13) Job’s friends and family members gave Job gifts when he recovered his health. (Job 42:11) None of such giving, however, required specific feast days. It stemmed from the heart.—2 Corinthians 9:7.
Family gatherings can do much to unite family members, especially if they no longer live in the same house. Jesus and his disciples attended a wedding feast in Cana, doubtless a large gathering of family and friends. (John 2:1-10) And in Jesus’ illustration of the prodigal son, the father celebrated his son’s return with a family banquet, which included music and dancing.—Luke 15:21-25.
Enjoying a Good Meal
The Bible frequently speaks of God’s servants as enjoying good food with family, friends, or fellow worshipers. When three angels visited Abraham, he prepared a feast for them that included beef, milk, butter, and round cakes. (Genesis 18:6-8) Solomon described ‘eating, drinking, and rejoicing’ as a gift from God.—Ecclesiastes 3:13; 8:15.
Clearly, God wants us to enjoy good food in the company of friends and family, and he approves of the giving of gifts. We have ample opportunity to do that at any time throughout the year.