At this time of the year, when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and the Incarnation of God the Son in human form, scoffers appear. I don’t blame atheists for not celebrating Christmas, but it is surprising, and sad, to find groups who claim to be Christian but shun the celebration of God the Son becoming Man.
Adventists are amongst these. Some Adventists celebrate Christmas, some don’t. Many Herbert Armstrong derivatives don’t either. Nor do Jehovah’s Witnesses. Those who don’t rely on two key arguments:
1) it’s not commanded in the Bible, and no permission is given to do so, and
Part 1: No command / permission
#1 is easy to show the foolishness of. Most of these anti-Christmas people use flushing toilets, the electric telephone, and even the internet. Those aren’t in the Bible either, and no permission is given in the Bible to use them.
Do we need permission to hold a celebration of one of the most important events in human history? Did the Magi need to find permission in the Bible to track Jesus down and present him with gifts – the very first Christmas presents? Did the angels need to find permission in the Bible to rejoice in heaven?
Do Adventists (and others) find biblical instructions to have their pot-luck events? Do Adventists (and others) find any biblical command to have their sabbath services in the morning rather than in the evening (as in Acts 20)?
Why the hesitancy to celebrate something as important as Jesus’ birth?
Think about it this way:
If an Adventist group decided that they felt strongly that they identified with the feeding of the 5000 by Jesus, and they decided they would celebrate this once a year with a huge pot-luck … would the Adventist hierarchy tell them to stop, because it wasn’t commanded in the Bible?
Or this way:
1. Assume that the Catholic Church didn’t exist.
2. If we assume that, then there would be no reason to reject things because they were Catholic.
3. Under such circumstances, would there be any real opposition to a proposal to celebrate Jesus’ birth by a first century Protestant / Adventist / Jehovah’s Witness?
I answer No. I think the underlying reason for most of these groups objecting to Christmas is that it is associated with Catholicism, which they hate. That it’s not expressly commanded in the Bible is just an excuse.
In the Old Covenant, God specified when and how worship occurred, the dates, the animals to be sacrificed, and so forth.
In the New Covenant, we are not given those prescriptions. Instead of God telling us what to do, he now wants us to offer to him our own love for him … and that is why we have the freedom to adopt the day Jesus rose from the dead instead of the Jewish sabbath, to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection annually as well as weekly instead of the Passover, to celebrate Jesus’ birth. And so, from the earliest Christian times, that is how the Christians did things.
They turned the important events in Jesus’ life into weekly and yearly celebrations.
Some Adventists, and others, tend to spurn these events, and either look the other way or denigrate them.
Romans 14 says that whatever day we use to worship God, we honour God by doing so, and those who cannot stomach that sort of thing are weak in their faith.
Part 2: Misinformation
I’ve said most of what I wanted to say. I’ll keep the next section brief, and provide five links below that will take you to a more detailed look at why the false historical claims made by some Adventists and others are indeed false.
In short, the accusations are these:
1. Christmas is derived from Saturnalia and the winter equinox.
2. Christmas is derived from the celebration of the birth of Sol Invictus. (Yes, it’s derived from two different events, depending on who is making the claim.)
3. We don’t know when Jesus was born, and it wasn’t in December in winter.
4. Christmas trees are forbidden in the Bible, and were adopted from the use of pagan Yuletide trees.
The answers to these:
1. Saturnalia started and ended before 25 December. If Christians wanted to use the date for Saturnalia, they could have asked anyone in the street. Furthermore, the winter equinox ended Saturnalia, 2 days before Christmas. And Saturnalia and Christmas do not share the same religious themes. And lastly, at a when Christians were particularly averse to doing things that may possibly have resembled paganism, it doesn’t make sense that they would adopt a pagan festival in the way the anti-Christmas crowd claim they did.
2. The celebration of the birth of Sol Invictus (the invincible sun) was once thought to pre-date the celebration of Christmas, and so some thought that Christians chose the same date to replace it with a celebration of the birth of the true sun of righteousness (i.e. Jesus; Malachi 4:2). It is now known that the Sol Invictus celebration came into being at least a century after the first documented evidence for celebrating the birth of Jesus, and it came into existence as part of an anti-Christian sentiment in the Roman government … so the Romans adopted the date from the Christians, not the other way around.
3a. The date of 25 December is calculated from the evidence given in the Bible about Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist. The timing of her pregnancy can be calculated from the information given about Zachariah’s service in the temple. With that information, it was determined that John the Baptist was conceived in September, and therefore born in June. Mary visited Elizabeth shortly after conceiving Jesus, and that was when Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant, i.e. in March. So if Mary conceived in March, Jesus would have been born in December.
3b. It was a pious Jewish belief, which early Christians considered relevant, that important people’s lives began and ended on the same day of the year. So the early Christians knew that Jesus died at the end of March, which means that his conception must have been at the end of March too … again making Jesus’ birth happen at the end of December.
3c. Winter? Snow? Too cold? The world was warmer back then – historians record vineyards growing in northern parts of Europe where it is too cold for them today. And even today, there are sheep out in the fields in Israel in December (special sheep for religious purposes.)
4. The origin of the Christmas tree comes from the German celebration of Adam and Eve on 24 December. Remember the story? There was a tree in paradise. Fir trees were well known to the Germans, so they used fir trees as the tree in paradise. Tree baubles? They represented the fruit on the tree. Later this was suppressed, and the tree moved to the following day.
So go and read these links, if you want more of the history – these people have read up on it more than I have:
Adam, Eve and the Christmas Tree … by Margaret Rose Realy
Yes, Christ Was Really Born on December 25 … by Taylor Marshall
How December 25 Became Christmas … by Andrew McGowan
Christmas, Pagan Romans, & Frodo Baggins … by Fr Dwight Longenecker
Christmas Was Never a Pagan Holiday … by Marian T Horvat