Christmas is nearly here, so let me ask, what do you think of it so far? Has it changed over the years? Has the focus moved away from the birth of Christ towards the commercial and party aspects of what has become a major holiday period?
I look around and all I see are bigger and bigger advertisements for hundreds of products, many of which I either don’t want or can’t afford. As each year passes Christmas becomes a bigger and bigger commercial exercise. This year we held Remembrance Sunday on 8 November and by then I had already seen a huge amount of Christmas material ready and available in the supermarkets and big stores and advertised on television. The bigger retailers such as John Lewis and Marks & Spencer must spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on blockbuster adverts in the hope of selling more and more products. Where is Jesus in all this? In recent weeks there has been a huge outcry over the idea of showing a video in cinemas lasting approximately 59 seconds talking about and saying the Lord’s Prayer. Many complained of having religion rammed down their throats whilst at the same time happily accepting the brainwashing aspects of a multitude of commercial adverts. So, given all that, my question this morning is: should Christmas be banned? Extreme I know, but it is worth asking nonetheless.
Let’s start with a bit of history! Firstly, the festival of Christmas does not appear anywhere in the Bible! Whilst we can read in great detail of the birth of Jesus, nowhere is there any mention of an annual celebration of His birth. The only event regarding Jesus that we are told to celebrate regularly is the breaking of bread which we know as Communion. That event though remembers Jesus’ death rather than His birth.
Secondly, we have no real idea when Jesus was born. Some scholars suggest that He was born between 6 and 4 BC although they don’t suggest the actual year nor the day or month. It seems though that the Jewish belief was that Jesus died on the same date on which He was conceived and that He was born precisely 9 months after conception. Since many scholars believe that He was crucified on 25 March, it follows that He was born on 25 December. It’s all conjecture of course but does fit rather nicely to give us what we celebrate as Christmas Day!
Thirdly, during Roman times there was a public holiday celebrated somewhere around 25 December in the family home. It was a time for feasting, goodwill, generosity to the poor, the exchange of gifts and the decoration of trees. But this wasn’t Christmas; this was Saturnalia, the pagan Roman winter solstice festival and it is just possible that when the first Christmas celebrations took place they were based on Saturnalia. The actual celebration of Christmas though is a man made festival that may have started somewhere around 354 AD. Soon after that date it was introduced to Constantinople in 379 AD, Antioch in 380 AD and Alexandria in 430 AD, and it was probably celebrated in some form or another for hundreds of years after that. That is until 1647 when England’s Puritan rulers banned it altogether until it was eventually reinstated in 1660. The Puritans who founded New England in America also disapproved of Christmas and banned it from 1659 to 1681. Whilst it was celebrated in America from then on for some years it fell out of favour after the American Civil War as it was felt to be “too English”. The Americans did eventually relent however and declared Christmas to be a national holiday in 1870.
There are many in the world today who would like nothing better than to follow the Puritans and ban Christmas. They don’t include, of course, the hundreds of retailers who make most of their profit at this time of year. They do however include those such as atheists and humanists who try to spread the idea that there is no God and that everything came about as the result of a big bang or some other mystical being creating the universe from a speck of dust. These people, by the way, never tell you where they got their initial speck of dust from! Then there are those who whilst they accept that there may well be a God also believe that the Bible is simply full of fairy stories and myths and therefore should be taken with a pinch of salt. Let me say here and now that I suspect that there are a vast number of people who claim to be ‘Christians’ who also support that view. I believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God. I have never doubted that and I can’t conceive of a day when I ever will, so much so that I fully agree with what Paul had to say to his protégé Timothy when he said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). That is why I fully subscribe to believing everything that I read in the Bible.
If you don’t believe that there are those who wish to ban Christmas then just consider these few thoughts:
Think of the recent furore over showing a 59 second video ‘advertising’ the Lord’s Prayer. To many anti-God folks it was total anathema and an affront to their soft-left, liberal, metro elite ideas.
Think of those local Councils who ban Christmas trees on the dubious grounds of Health & Safety, or rather ironically as once described by Jeremy Clarkson ‘Elf & Safety’.
Think of Councils such as Birmingham City Council who, a few years ago, banned the idea of Christmas preferring to call it ‘Winterval’.
Think of those Muslim schools, particularly in Birmingham, who banned any reference to Christmas within their boundaries.
The first person who it could be said wanted to ban Christmas was, of course, Herod. The king was horrified at the rumours that a baby who was to be the Messiah was about to be born. So horrified was he that Matthew tells us that when he learned of Wise Men looking for the baby Herod contacted them secretly to ask them what they knew about when and where this baby was to be born. He didn’t let on to these Wise Men what his true motives were simply telling them that he too wanted to go and worship the new born boy. Under no circumstances did Herod want to be usurped by a mere baby and so as soon as the Wise Men left him to continue their quest he set the wheels in motion to find the baby himself so that he could have Him killed. Having been warned in a dream not to go back to see Herod, the Wise Men made their way home by a different route. When they didn’t return to let him know where the baby Jesus was, Herod issued an edict that all baby boys under the age of 2 should be killed. If he couldn’t find and kill Jesus directly then he would kill all babies of a similar age just to be 100% sure that he had ‘got Him’! Just think, if Herod had succeeded then there would never have been Christmas.
Those who have placed their faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour do, in the main, accept that He was born to Mary, a teenage virgin. They believe, and I’m one of them, that Mary conceived and became pregnant as a result of the Holy Spirit ‘passing over’ her. Many in the world today don’t accept that, they find it to be too far-fetched to be true. Some years ago the then Bishop of Durham, I believe his name was David Jenkins, caused a great stir by stating very loudly and publicly that he couldn’t accept that Jesus was born as a result of a virgin birth. He couldn’t see or accept that God would do such a thing. If he doubted that God would do that then perhaps he also doubted that God could do that. God created the universe! God is infinite and in my eyes that means that He is perfectly capable of doing whatever He wants no matter how weird or unlikely it may seem to the finite world. Needless to say the Bishop’s words were music to the ears of the myriad of doubters around the world.
Moving away from those who hold any views regarding God and the real Christmas story, there are those who dislike Christmas simply because of what in brings in its wake. Too many people spend far too much and far exceed their proposed budget when buying presents and food and drink. Consequently when their Credit Card bills land on the mat in January they put a real dampener on the festivities. Following that strange event known as ‘Black Friday’, I saw a cartoon titled ‘Red Saturday’ which showed someone opening their Bank Statement! To many people that is what Christmas tends to be about.
Then there are those who only see some members of their extended families over the Christmas period. When they do meet, they argue and fall out again, until next Christmas. Statistics show; and I always worry about statistics; that the growth period for divorce proceedings being instituted comes in the weeks immediately following Christmas. Previously happy families suddenly break up as a result of the arguments, the impending debt, the probable drunkenness and the potential for infidelity. Company Christmas parties are a breeding ground for infidelity! People in similar situations to those that I’ve just outlined frequently say, “I’m glad that’s over and I wish it was over for ever”. Have you heard that said? I have!
Just think for a moment of all the food that is consumed. On average people put on about 6 lbs in weight over the Christmas period simply because they eat too much and don’t get any exercise. Just think as well of the all food that is wasted; it is cooked but not consumed and then consigned to the bin! Christmas shouldn’t just be about stuffing a turkey and then stuffing our faces but also about sharing what we have with those who don’t have anything. Jesus came to help the poor and the needy and to make sure that they too were fed. So much food becomes available at Christmas and yet more and more people go hungry.
Blaming Christmas, and by default God, for some of the goings on during the Christmas festivities is the soft option; it is the easy way out. After all we live in an age when nothing is “my fault”, it is always “someone else’s fault”.
Keep It and Celebrate It
I’m sorry if that all sounds like a bit of a downer but I’m sure that you will have heard of some of these situations or perhaps even been there. So, now for the good stuff!
Christmas will soon be over; we look forward to it all year and it seems to be over in a flash. Not so with Jesus, He came to be with us for ever, not just for Christmas, but for all eternity.
Whilst we may overspend on presents that people don’t want, the greatest gift ever cost nothing. That famous verse in John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John said, “He [that is God] gave” which makes that sounds like a gift to me, and I don’t see any mention of a price tag! It may seem like I’m jumping ahead a bit, but at the end of Matthew 28 we read Jesus’ words that come after His resurrection to close what we know as the Great Commission. Jesus told His disciples, and by default all of us, “...surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). I’ve no idea when the end of the age will come but it sounds a very long time to me. All of that from a free gift!
I mentioned earlier the overeating that takes place; people eat so much that they literally get weighed down. Then there is the debt that they accumulate that weighs them down even more. Jesus came not to add to our woes or to weigh us down even more, rather He came to take away whatever it is that weighs us down. The Apostle Peter says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus was God’s gift to us at Christmas and came to take away our burdens and not add to them. If we cast our cares on Jesus He will be there to help us and care for us; He may not be able to clear our financial debts for us but He will certainly be there by our side as we deal with these problems. When we come to faith in Christ we are never alone, He is always there for us. Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving.
So, should Christmas be banned? My reply to that question is, no way! It may be based on pagan festivals, it may be expensive, it may be over-commercialised and it may be too much at one time. But, it is one of those extremely rare opportunities for people to talk about Jesus, even if only vaguely. It is an opportunity for non-church goers to perhaps at least attend a Carol Service of some description and sing the traditional carols and hear the traditional Bible readings. It may also be an opportunity for people to hear the gospel message dressed up in Christmas clothing. If Christmas was banned it would be just one more nail in the coffin for the open and free worship of Jesus Christ in this country, something that should be avoided at all costs.
Christmas is that wonderful time of year when we all get together to celebrate the birthday of the Saviour of the world Jesus Christ. It may not be truly Biblical but I’m sure that God doesn’t mind us sharing the good news of the birth of His Son in the way that we do. So instead of banning Christmas and moaning about virtually everything associated with the season let’s all continue to remember and celebrate that great day when Jesus was born as an ordinary baby in rather extraordinary circumstances.