JOHN PEARRELL: Christmas has not changed — our focus has

Rev. John Pearrell

Every Christmas, without fail, someone will ask me if Christians should celebrate Christmas. The idea that we should not celebrate it comes from either the concept that the holiday has become so commercial as to have lost its true meaning (and should we propagate that commercialism?) or from the misguided teaching of some that Christmas has its origins is a pagan holiday and therefore is not really Christian at all.

Right off the bat we have to admit that we are sure of the actual date of the birth of Jesus. Many scholars feel that the evidence of history lends itself to an April birth-date. However, since around 336 A.D., the commemoration of His birth has been recognized in the Western Church as December 25th.

Historically, the reason for establishing Dec. 25 as the day we celebrate Christ’s birth is somewhat obscure. Common belief is that this day was chosen to correspond to pagan festivals that took place around the time of the winter solstice (thus the “pagan origin” argument.) When the days begin to lengthen, pagans celebrated the “rebirth of the sun.” Some scholars feel that the early church made the birth of Christ, “The Light of the World” analogous to the rebirth of the Sun in order to make Christianity more meaningful to pagan converts. It makes sense that the church would do this; after all we are in the transforming business! When you think of it, that is exactly what we see God doing throughout the whole Old Testament with the Nation of Israel. So many of the Laws given were transformational laws; that is, they recognized the practices of the pagan nations and revised them for the believing nation! God moves in and transforms; He doesn’t burst in and trample.

While we cannot pinpoint for certain the birthday of our Savior, I believe there are good reasons for celebrating it on Dec. 25, and the early church seems to agree. I see no reasons why Christians cannot celebrate this holiday in good faith.

Regarding the argument that the holiday has become so secular says more about us than it does the holiday. The holiday has not changed; our focus has changed. We’ve moved from the centrality of Christ on Christmas to a focus on commercialism. Our society has gone so far as to ban manger scenes from public places. Our children, in school pageants, are not permitted to sing songs which speak of the birth of the Savior whose birth we have celebrated on Dec. 25 for the last 17 centuries. Losing the very reason for the season our celebration has become a mere shell covering the emptiness we feel.

We give gifts at Christmas because at Christmas we used to recognize the greatest gift of all: “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 3:16 NIV).

I for one like the tradition of the giving of gifts at Christmastime because it does serve to remind me of the marvelous gift of eternal life that God gave to me and to all who will receive his Son Jesus Christ into their hearts and lives as Savior and Lord.

Whether you agree with my assessment in this article or not is a moot point. The bottom line is that there are issues within Christianity which are not spelled out in Scripture and over which many have differing opinions. How do we deal with issues such as these? I think the answer is found in Romans 14. Simply put, where the Scripture does not give us clear-cut answers, we are free to follow our consciences on those issues. In this case, for me, I celebrate Christmas and I enjoy the celebration. I hope you will too.

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit www.gatewaycommunity.org or email john.pearrell@gatewaycommunity.org.

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