Early in my Christian walk, I found the Christmas season annoying and
irritating rather than inspiring and enjoyable. That’s because I believed
Christmas was really a pagan holiday masquerading as Christian, and as such,
God must hate it. I thought people who call themselves Christian but
participate in such pagan revelry must disgust God.
But something the apostle Paul wrote gave me pause to reflect on my
assumptions about Christmas, as well as Easter, another holiday I took for
pagan debauchery. It’s in Philippians 1:15-18. In this passage Paul is
referring to the way some were responding to his imprisonment. Some were taking
advantage of Paul’s being out of the way by preaching Christ to set themselves
up in Paul’s place. Others were preaching out of pure motives, just to proclaim
the gospel. Here is what Paul had to say about it:
“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others
out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the
defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not
sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.
But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from
false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
So what does that have to do with Christmas? It showed me that when Christ
is preached, that’s a good thing, regardless of the reasons or setting for it.
And that led me to take a closer look at what believers actually do during
Christmas, rather than just assuming they were joining in pagan revelry.
I found that for believers, Christmas is about Jesus. The Christmas tree,
which is an evergreen, symbolizes the everlasting life we have in Jesus. The
lights point to Jesus, the Light of the world. The gifts reflect God’s
unconditional love, given simply because he is God and not because we deserved
it. And the day itself is a commemoration of the birth of Jesus, God in the
flesh, who became one of us to draw us into the love and intimate communion he
shares with the Father.
When I saw what Christmas is really about, all my fear and distaste
disappeared. God is not some curmudgeon who made humans so he’d have somebody
to keep his rules. God loves us and wants us to enter his joy, and part of his
joy is celebration. To celebrate Jesus is the best kind of celebration there
is, because in celebrating Jesus we are celebrating all of humanity, to whom
Jesus has given worth, meaning and dignity by taking humanity into himself.
You know, pagans lived in houses, wore clothes, ate food, went to work and
raised families. We don’t avoid those things. And pagans prayed, assembled for
worship, sang hymns and gave offerings. We don’t even avoid most of the things
pagans did in worshipping their false gods, nor does God expect us to. Pagans
don’t own December 25. That day belongs to God like every other day.
If you are afraid to celebrate Christmas because you think God hates both it
and the people who keep it, I hope you’ll consider giving it some more thought
and prayer. It really is a time of great cheer, joy and hope for those who
trust in Christ. And God approves of that.
I’m Joseph Tkach, speaking of LIFE.