Jesus was a Capricorn
He ate organic food
He believed in love and peace
And never wore no shoes
Long hair, beard and sandals
And a funky bunch of friends
Reckon we’d just nail him up
If he came down again
‘Cause everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on
Who they can feel better than at any time they please…..
– Kris Kristofferson, circa 1970
So goes the ballad from the heady days when we were all assured that “you can’t legislate morality” (and before the days when we found out that legislating immorality is no problem at all, once this fallacy had been fully embraced by those in civil and ecclesiastical power).
This blog, despite appearances, will not be a rant against paganism in the yuletide traditions of Western culture. There are few aspects of New Testament history where paganism doesn’t pervasively intertwine. This will be more of an urgent plea to the marriage permanence community to “keep our powder dry”, in order to assure that our more urgent message is heard by this culture. We must choose our battles wisely and with eternity in firm focus, Standers. The time seems to be growing short.
It is true that the actual birth date of Jesus is far more likely to have been late September rather than late December. We find this by the account of the conception and birth of cousin John the Baptist, whom scripture tells us was 6 months older than the Son of God (see Luke 1) . We also surmise it by the fact that shepherds would not have had their sheep out overnight in the fields at that December time of year (Luke 2:8-14) . It is also true that some of the things said by the Hebrew prophets concerning Asherah poles, and the like (Jeremiah 7:18, Jeremiah 10:2-4) find a valid enough analogy in the Christmas tree, for a reverent Christ-follower to learn about the pagan history of various traditions, to gain strong insights into how the more serious heresies took root in the Church in similar fashion, and to seek the Lord’s face on how to best honor His birthday, which most likely came in the month of Tishrei (in which both Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and Rosh Hashanah occur), rather than Tevet, the month in which Hanukkah falls.
(Those who instead believe Jesus was born in early March are interpreting the reference to “the sixth month”, concerning the timing of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in Luke 1, not as the sixth month of that pregnancy, but as the sixth month of the modern Julian calendar. For more information on the Hebrew months of the year, click here.)
Legalism over holiday-tainting seems to be one of the 4 or 5 “wedge issues” dividing and distracting the marriage permanence community, as though celebrating Halloween, Christmas and Easter were transgressions of equal magnitude as those on the 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and Galatians 5:19-21 lists (though some would be quick to call having a Christmas tree idolatry), and as though a spirit-filled believer, suddenly dying while in the act of committing one of these celebrations, is going to be ushered into hell. Some current-day Judaizers would go so far as to say that Christ-followers should be celebrating Hanukkah and Passover instead of Christmas and Easter. SIFC says, “why choose?” Why not be free to enjoy the richness of all of them?
St. Augustine of Hippo said,
“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
Prior to that, St. Paul of Tarsus said of an idolatry-tainting issue in his day in the Corinthian church:
All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.
1 Cor. 10:23-33
As the early church grew into the European regions they found the native / pagan holidays had evolved around the agrarian cycle with its busy fall harvest time, followed by the means (in both time and food availability) to celebrate. Winter was also longer and darker there than in the Middle East, so winter festivals were also a time of lifting people’s spirits. It is questionable whether Jesus’ actual birthday could have been celebrated during the height of the harvest season in many of those countries. Making the most of the available time and conditions to harvest was a matter of survival in those days. Is this so dissimilar to the run-in with the Pharisees, when the Lord’s disciples were gleaning grain on the Sabbath?
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? “But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. “But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.
Yes, it’s true that many of the symbols that became associated with Christmas traditions in Europe had pagan origins, since that was the tradition those pagans had converted in. See this short video for a very balanced and informative look at this. On balance, I find it not that unreasonable that from the time of Emperor Constantine, early church evangelism started wrapping biblical teaching around what its pagan proselytes knew best, so long as Christ’s essential commandments weren’t compromised. Jesus used object lessons in the same way, for sure, and the Apostles likewise saw the need to agree on essentials for the earliest Gentile converts, in order to avoid the legalism of trying to Judaize them, so that the greater work of discipleship, and of advancing the kingdom of God weren’t hindered. By comparison, it was a far more serious matter that Constantine’s court started undermining the commandment of Christ that no man has authority to dissolve the marriage covenant joined by God Most High.
December 25 seems to coincidentally be the observed birthday of quite a few pseudo-deities. (Disclaimer: SIFC has not verified any of these.)
These observations are not being written to slam anyone who feels convicted in this area, but only to stimulate a little more thought about kingdom priorities. Covenant marriage standers certainly would have a tendency to be drawn to these ideas, absent any other input. After all, year after year, many of us suffer through the holiday season having to put up with the miserable fact that our one-flesh is celebrating with the counterfeit who is doing their best to escort them to hell. There typically isn’t much money for gifts, travel, party invites, or ability to accept the ones that come, for many who stand praying for the repentance of their prodigal. The joke’s on the adulterers, isn’t it, if they’re reveling in a false occasion while the real date brings the everyday relational turmoil of living in a sinful state.
But what of maintaining an attitude and welcoming environment for the sudden repentance of that wandering one-flesh? Is a home that now bans all the things the Holy Spirit has perhaps been faithfully stirring up in their memories going to feel welcoming to them? Is that the message that’s plastered all over your wall, Stander?
May I suggest applying the “T-H-I-N-K filter” to the frequency, tone and content of posted items on this topic?
Is it True? (Mostly, it is! But what do they see you actually doing?)
Is it Helpful? (Probably not — are there better ways to walk this out by positive example?)
Is it Inspiring? ( We have to be honest here, don’t we? Scrooge was inspiring! Leaving room for the work of the Holy Spirit is inspiring.)
Is it Necessary? (Most things that aren’t heaven-or-hell issues are probably best left to the move of the Holy Spirit, and led by our example instead of grating rebuke.)
Is it Kind? (That depends on each of the elements above, does it not?)
If our conviction is strong about celebrating Jesus’ birthday as close as possible to the actual date, and doing so in some way that excludes objects that could be seen as idolatrous, why not start that tradition in our home and invite someone over in late September, perhaps even post those pictures with a non-disparaging explanation? Why not then spend Dec. 25 serving the community in some way? We’re sure to be asked about it, which then opens up an opportunity to witness. Could a posted meme possibly be more effective than this?
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